Decarbonization of shipping in the maritime sector …An effort to curb the forthcoming global climate change pandemic


The world is currently facing a global health crisis which has impacted the way of life of most economies. The coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic has shown us the need to rebuild our economies for the provision of jobs that is secure, resilient, and safe. It is seemingly true that some countries have always built their economies in a way that too often ignores science and technology. Thankfully, COVID19 has infused an induced resilience in science by depicting how vulnerable our economies are.

Quite frankly, the world does not want to be involved in any future crisis – be it pandemic, climate change, and inequality amongst others. Therefore, proactive measures are required to stimulate resilience, not vulnerability in an attempt for sustainable economic growth and development. For a sustainable Ghanaian economy amidst the recent global pandemic, policymakers should formulate policies that possess unique strategies to rebuild a better and more sustainable economy by considering the short and long-term impacts of investments on climate.

The shipping industry is deemed an integral aspect of our daily routines. The transportation of goods in the shipping industry releases harmful toxins into the atmosphere. Globally, maritime transport emits more than 940 million metric tons of carbon emissions every year accounting for approximately 2.5% of total emissions. Any further rise in emissions from the shipping industry would undermine the Paris Climate Agreement. In order not to undermine the Paris Climate Agreement, it is worth noting that international shipping carries an estimated ninety (90) percent of the world’s trade. Therefore, it would be an economic disaster for any country to reduce shipping because such an initiative would jeopardize more than a million jobs and trade impacts. Against this backdrop, the Center of International Maritime Affairs, Ghana (CIMAG) asks: how can the carbon footprint in Ghana’s shipping industry be reduced without cutting back on shipments? New technology and stakeholder workshops are the best bet in answering this question. In 2019, the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) and the Ghana Shippers Authority (GSA) took the initiative to sensitize stakeholders in the maritime industry on new regulations to reduce Sulphur emissions from ships for environmental sustainability. The seminar sought to inform stakeholders about the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) 2020 Sulphur cap regulations. Such a commendable initiative provides a substantial improvement in atmospheric air quality, thereby enabling the achievement of the United Nations 2010 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

With the potential effect of global warming looming, the shipping industry is urged to decarbonize its operations. The IMO in April 2018 adopted a data-driven strategy to reduce 50% total greenhouse gas emission by 2050 by utilizing 2008 as the baseline year. IMO also hopes to reduce average carbon intensity by at least 40% by 2030, and 70% by mid-century. IMO’s data-driven forecasting scenario can only be realized through the deployment of technology-driven innovations and the mass education of all stakeholders involved in the shipping industry. However, it is becoming seemingly true that investing in technological innovation that helps in the decarbonization of the shipping industry is complex. Yet, it is explicit that decarbonizing shipping requires massive investments. Nonetheless, CIMAG through its research has realized that there is a way to decarbonize shipping without spending billions. The answer lies in “digitalizing the high seas”. Digitalizing the high seas requires revisiting how global demand and supply are handled across the shipping industry. A revisit on the processes involved in the buying and selling of shipping container space is still dependent on analog methods in handling space reservations and releasing operations to multiple parties. Specifically, a shipping container is considered in two folds. A full container load (FCL), and the less than container load (LCL). Placing much emphasis on the LCL, the LCL allows multiple parties to reserve available space, which is measured in cubic meters. Cubex Global market analysis has shown that an estimated 25%-40% LCL capacity goes empty globally. Applying Cubex Global estimated percentage on global LCL traffic of 36 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) prompted a solution that would not only recover many billions of dollars in lost revenues, rather could offset carbon emissions by 6% by becoming 25% more operationally efficient.

To decarbonize shipping through investment, three main investment pathways should be adopted. First, investments in inexhaustible and unconventional fuels are required. Investments should be channeled in a way that renewables (investments in renewable electricity, including hydrogen, and ammonia) dominate the supply of marine fuel.  Also, investment is required for the development of biofuels. However, the price and viability of biofuels are driven by the readiness of worldwide bio-energy capacity which is a challenge. Furthermore, an equal mix investment which is made of fuels produced from renewable electricity, fuels produced from bio-energy, and fuels produced from natural gas with carbon capture and storage are required. Second, investments in technological measures (like hull design improvements, and air lubrication amongst others) that improves the energy efficiency of ships could contribute to emission reductions. Finally, operational improvements such as slower ship speeds, smoother ship-port co-ordination, and the use of energy-efficient ships could contribute to emission reduction. The implementation of the proposed solutions aimed at decarbonizing ships should be a long-term strategy for Ghana and the world as a whole. As ships move from one end to another, a complete and holistic approach in the deployment of these solutions for all countries should be developed. Without such a holistic approach, the adverse effect of climate change awaits to be tackled in the future.

In conclusion, shipping is a hard-to-abate sector. Decarbonization of shipping coupled with its energy chain analysis can be realized through collaborations and collective action between maritime, infrastructure, finance, and the energy sector, with support from the Ghanaian government and other international organisations.

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