GHG reduction: it’s time for a propulsion revolution


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By Wasana Nadeeshani Sellahewa

(Commonwealth) _ Ambitious IMO objectives of reducing GHG emissions by 50% by 2050 would necessitate a fourth revolution in marine propulsion, based on new fuels and technologies. ICS is developing proactive ideas to meet the UN IMO’s lofty target of phasing out GHG emissions. Including an overall cut of at least 50% by the shipping sector by 2050.

Over the last two centuries, worldwide shipping has shifted from sail to steam, and from coal to oil propulsion. As a consequence of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships, the industry is on the verge of a “Fourth Propulsion Revolution,” which might use a combination of hydrogen/ammonia and batteries fueled by renewable energy sources. ICS and its member state organizations are committed to phasing out greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in accordance with the IMO’s Initial Strategy for Reducing GHG Emissions from Ships, which was adopted in April 2018 but is set to be updated upwards in 2023.

However, during the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, ICS committed the worldwide industry to a net zero objective for 2050, with the clear awareness that this would only be feasible if IMO Member States take the necessary urgent actions to make this practicable within a global regulatory framework.

These urgent steps include the immediate approval of a $5 billion IMO Maritime Research Fund (IMRF) to accelerate the development of zero-carbon technologies and fuels, as well as the rapid application, via IMO regulation, of a global carbon price to international shipping to close the price cap between conventional and zero-carbon fuels and raise the enormous funds required to expedite a fair and equitable transition in which developing countries are not left behind.

In March 2022, ICS presented to IMO a revised version of the R&D Fund proposal, which it hopes will be approved by the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in June 2022. To help states reach an agreement, including those with reasonable concerns about the impact on trade, ICS has offered recommendations for revising the existing IMO GHG reduction plan to include a net zero emission objective for 2050.

IMO adopted a set of obligatory technical and operational measures in June 2021, with strong support from ICS, to assist ensure that the existing global fleet reduces its carbon intensity by at least 40% by 2030. (compared to 2008). However, the challenge of completely decarbonizing the sector – dubbed the Fourth Propulsion Revolution by ICS – is of a completely different order, especially given that demand for maritime trade is expected to continue growing as the world’s population and its expectations of higher living standards continue to rise.

The utilization of zero-carbon technology and fuels such as hydrogen, ammonia, and electricity generated from renewable energy sources will be required to completely decarbonize shipping. However, these new zero-carbon fuels do not yet exist in a scale or form that is ready for immediate application to global shipping, particularly large ocean-going ships on intercontinental voyages, and the cost of these new zero-carbon fuels is likely to be prohibitively expensive unless the price gap between conventional and alternative fuels can be closed through the application of a market-based measure (MBM) implemented globally by IMO.

IMO is quite ambitious. Even a 50% overall reduction by 2050, independent of trade growth, is extremely difficult, let alone any more ambitious aim that the IMO may agree to in 2023. The industry must also enhance efficiency by 40% by 2030, however ICS believes that this early objective may be met with existing technology. ICS is developing proactive ideas to meet the UN IMO’s ambitious targets for reducing GHG emissions. Including an overall reduction of at least 50% by the shipping sector by 2050.


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