Is it too late or can we still change something? This is probably the most common question being asked when following news coverage of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Scotland’s Glasgow. Will the representatives of around 200 nations have come up with ideas on how to mitigate global warming and still turn the wheel?
Shipping and the maritime supply chain have of course been important topics and various relevant announcements were made in advance and during the twelve days of the conference. One of them was certainly a bang: instead of reducing its 2050 greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) urges the industry to become climate-neutral within this timeframe.
To this effect, the ICS has submitted a proposal to the IMO in London, which the 175 member states will now have to decide on. This endeavour is, of course, a challenging one, and simple pledges of all stakeholders involved are just not enough.
All in all, there are currently numerous proclamations and timetables in many branches of industry as to when climate neutrality should be achieved. However, the practicalities of these plans often remain unspoken. So what needs to be done so that the major industrial nations and economies, and thus also shipping, move away from being net emitters of carbon emissions in the not-so-distant future?
Developments in the different maritime segments over recent years have clearly shown that it would be economically and technically possible to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. However, in order to exploit and use the potential accordingly, political action and a binding framework are urgently required.
Also, it needs to be made clear that it is not the combustion engine that has to be abandoned; clean fuels, global supplies, and logistics are the indisputable necessity for the years to come. Quite rightly, Alfred Hartmann, president of the German Shipowner’s Association VDR, which has been instrumental in the current submission by the ICS, pointed out that a revolution is needed in ships’ fuels to achieve climate- neutrality. But is our industry ready for a revolution?
Indeed, everybody is currently talking a lot about carbonneutral and fossil-free fuels. We are discussing blue and green methanol, ammonia, hydrogen, power-to-X, e-fuels and battery propulsion. We are very much aware that there is not “that one solution that fits all”. The technologies and – even more importantly – the willingness to change are there. But shipping is an international business like no other. And, as has been said many times before: greenhouse gases do not stop at national borders.
There is certainly a “can-do” approach among most nations and decision-makers. However, unless the threat of climate change is not recognised by all, a revolution may not be enough.