The CO2 budget is shrinking fast
28th September 2015 21:47 GMT

The CO2 challenge is really difficult for shipping, as it is for every sector. One thing can be reduced down to something very simple though: the science.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AR5 work tells us that we have approximately 1400Gt of CO2 left that can be emitted before we irreversibly cause dangerous climate change. 

The CO2 challenge is an issue that isn’t going to go away and will escalate in intensity as that budget gets increasingly used up. We’re currently working our way through the budget at approximately 40Gt per year, which means that at this rate we can enjoy CO2 neutral growth for 35 years before we trigger dangerous climate change - specified by IPCC as a temperature rise greater than 2 degrees in 2100.

How this plays out in terms of who gets what portion of the budget, as well as whether the political process mobilises action in time for us to avoid exceeding the budget, is not yet known.

But the fact that there is a budget means that whatever happens, the later any sector leaves a transition, the higher the stringency and the rate of change that will be required.  This makes CO2 very different from other pollutant challenges (e.g. SOx, NOx, ballast water). For those challenges, the ultimate stringency of the regulation is not modified by the date of the regulation inception. If the sulphur cap comes into force in 2025 instead of 2020, it will still be 0.50%, we won’t have used up some additional sulphur budget and need to have it set at some level below the 2020 limit in order to ‘catch up'.

At the International Maritime Organization (IMO), CO2 has been particularly challenging for a number of reasons; CBDR (common but differentiated responsibilities) vs. NFT (no more favourable treatment), the difficulty of envisioning technological solutions, the interaction between shipping markets and emissions intensity (e.g. the complex play between ship speed and markets), the interaction between global trade and shipping emissions. And some excellent work has already been done (EEDI, SEEMP etc).

The work being carried out in the Shipping in Changing Climates research project and other similar projects, which show that there’s still a long way to go, is not a criticism of the progress that has been made to date, nor a naive assumption that IMO can easily solve the above challenges. Instead, it can be seen as a simple statement about the fundamental incompatibility between shipping’s rising CO2 emissions and climate science, and a quest to try and figure out how this can be resolved.  The engagement of many key industry stakeholders in this work has been phenomenal, and shows that many can see that strategically the sooner the sector addresses the problem the better.

Before we even find out what will happen in Paris and COP21, we now have the EU, US, China, the Pope, financial institutions (read John Authers’ “Carbon footprints loom large for investors” in this weekend’s Financial Times) embracing the concept of an imminent peak in emissions (e.g. at least before 2050) followed by decline in absolute emissions.

What does it mean if shipping as a sector projects an image that it is going to increase its emissions no matter what?  It may succeed for a few more years to delay onset of any regulation, it may lull the firms within the shipping industry into thinking that they are somehow exempt from the challenge that all other sectors are involved in. 

But eventually, the inevitability of the laws of physics and the political pressure exerted by finite carbon budgets becoming increasingly used up will catch up.  When they do, shipping’s lack of preparedness could be catastrophic to any high-level ultimate goal: e.g. a stable shipping system and a steady rate of global economic development and growth in world trade. 

Late onset of regulation would result in a rapid rate of emission reduction being placed on the sector.  This high rate of change, in combination with a mindset that small incremental efficiency improvements are all that is needed, could present serious risks to the future of both shipping and global trade.

Shipping needs to have a more honest, open and transparent debate about these issues and challenges.  It also needs a strong evidence base to inform the strategy that will help it negotiate the transition with the minimum of unintended consequences and the maximum stability, profitability and equity.

*More information about the Shipping in Changing Climates research project is available in the Sustainable Shipping library under the titles "International shipping’s future: are we being honest about how best to handle shipping’s GHG emissions? " and "CO2 Targets, Trajectories and Trends for International Shipping ".


Tristan Smith ,
28th September 2015 21:47 GMT

Comments on this Blog
Heinz Otto - Windships
26th October 2015
With great respect to you, Mr. Smith,
your words are essential to our world, but the IMO has til now an own world:
"But eventually, the inevitability of the laws of physics and the political pressure exerted by finite carbon budgets becoming increasingly used up will catch up. When they do, shipping’s lack of preparedness could be catastrophic to any high-level ultimate goal: e.g. a stable shipping system and a steady rate of global economic development and growth in world trade.

In our world, we have lost nearly 50 years, since W. Prölss "gave us" his DYNARIG. Hundreds of ships could carry even with the power of the wind from coast to coast freights (Bulk, Fluids...)
Thanks again from @windotto
Heinz Otto - Windships
22nd January 2016
Dear Mr. Tristan Smith,
you know the CO2-challenge, you know hopefully also your colleagues:
https://www.pik-potsdam.de/research/publications/pikreports/.files/pr116.pdf with their demand, to start now with CO2-reducing.
This morning, I could read a paper, written also with your pen:
http://www.sustainableshipping.com/library/external - CO2 Targets, Trajectories and Trends for International Shipping- and I am surprised:
how Long it takes time, shipping will reduce their CO2. We have sails, modern Systems, B9-shipping is presented in your Website:
http://www.u-mas.co.uk/- we have LNG, but nothing of it is in your paper.
Please contact www.wind-ship.org
Best regards, Heinz Otto
agoetfme agoetfme
3rd September 2016
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agoetfme agoetfme
3rd September 2016
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