Energy Transitions Commission: Aiming for Net-Zero Shipping

by Joe Gallop and Izabela Chmielewska.

In 2018 the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) released an aptly named report, ‘Mission Possible’, which aims to reach net-zero shipping by mid-century. Here is the progress of net-zero shipping today.

The report, which had contributions from over 200 experts over a six-month consultation process, focuses on reaching net-zero carbon emissions from shipping. ETC does so by bringing together a diverse group of industry leaders. These include energy producers, energy users, equipment suppliers, investors, non-profit organizations and academics.

Net-zero goal

The aim was to accelerate change towards low-carbon energy systems which enable robust economic development, which also limits the rise in global temperature to well below 2˚C and as close as possible to 1.5˚C.

Commission members suggested that achieving this goal would not only limit the harmful impact of climate change, but it would also drive prosperity and deliver important local environmental benefits.

According to the report, the goal of net-zero carbon emissions is possible by 2060 and earlier in developed economies and could cost less than 0.5% of global GDP, according to the report. 

The report focuses on green steel use, which would add approximately $180 on the price of a car. Green shipping would also add less than 1% to the price of an imported pair of jeans and low-carbon plastics would add 1 US cent on the price of a bottle of soda.

Challenges

They identify carbon emissions and demand trends by mid-century as potential challenges. As well as plastics, because of end-of-life emissions, cement, because of process emissions, and shipping due to the high cost of decarbonisation and the fragmented structure of the industry.

However, the ETC insists that reaching net-zero CO2 emissions across heavy industry and heavy-duty transport sectors is both technically and economically achievable

Emissions from shipping currently amount to around 0.9Gt CO2, accounting for almost 3% of total global emissions. Demand for shipping is expected to increase with global economic growth and shipping appears to be the most difficult transport mode to decarbonise, according to ETC.

ETC pinpoint three actions to accelerate the transition: innovation, policy, and industry/business. They also suggest the process is possible through demand management, energy efficiency and decarbonisation technologies.  

Adair Turner, co-chair of the ETC said:

“This report sets out an optimistic but completely realistic message – we can build a zero-carbon economy with a minor cost to economic growth. We should now commit to achieving this by 2060 at the latest, and put in place the policies and investments required to deliver it.” 

Ajay Mathur, co-chair of the Commission added:

“Climate change imperatives, underlined most recently in the IPCC Special Report to limit global warming to 1.5°C, require the world to move to near-zero carbon emissions by the 2060s or so – when many of the investments we make today would still be operational. The ETC report provides pragmatic steps to move towards zero-carbon technology options in these harder-to-abate sectors, providing both hope as well as strategic directions in these sectors.”

Present developments

Recently, shipping companies have been releasing statements regarding their progress in reaching the goal of ‘Mission Possible’.

Antwerp-based shipping company, Compagnie Maritime Belge (CMB) announced earlier this year that they pledge to be ‘Net Zero’ from 2020, and absolute ‘Zero’ by 2050. They have been investing in the development of zero carbon ships and engines.

The company: “firmly believes in zero carbon emissions from its shipping operations and aims to achieve this by 2050. Many low carbon and zero carbon technologies are already in the early stages of development, it is convinced the shipping industry will find solutions to today’s problems to provide zero carbon shipping by 2050”.

CMB.TECH is currently building the HydroTug (the world’s first hydrogen-powered tug boat) and are planning to deliver it to the Port of Antwerp in 2021. This marks CMB’s 125th anniversary year and “is a testimony to its continued belief in the power of global trade and human creativity.”