Shipping under scrutiny in Paris at COP 21
By Tristan Smith, on 9 December 2015
Something that has become a bit of a tradition at COP’s is the “Fossil of the day” award, run by the Climate Action Network. This is given to a member state that has caught the judge’s attention by doing something particularly unimpressive. On Day 3, for the first time, instead of being awarded to a country, it was given to shipping and aviation (the UN agencies that represent the sectors: IMO and ICAO), for the general lack of progress in their work to date to tackle their GHG emissions and climate impacts.
This is important because these two sectors are often forgotten about – shipping probably more so than aviation, because we all have first-hand experience of aviation, but unless you live next to a busy port, you probably don’t think too much about the global shipping industry. So the award proves that these sectors are being watched and can expect further scrutiny.
And well they should expect further scrutiny. Combined, the two sectors currently emit about 5% of global anthropogenic CO2, but under baseline scenarios (e.g. existing policy), assuming that Paris puts in place the process that achieves a 2 degrees stabilization pathway, shipping and aviation are estimated to become 40% of global CO2 emissions by 2050. This is because both sectors are forecast for high growth in demand and both currently have high dependence on fossil fuel use. Without further policy this will far outstrip any natural evolution to improve energy efficiency.
Research undertaken in the Shipping in Changing Climates project is trying to identify how shipping can transition in order to balance a growing demand with a rate of change in emissions that would be proportionate to the whole economy 2 degree pathway. It is clear from the work that the challenge ahead is large, but that there are a number of possible solutions, all which require policy levers to incentivize, innovation and for technologies to mature. These two things are closely connected – the investment in the necessary step-change technologies will only occur when the investors see that the shipping industry’s GHG mitigation pathway is being taken seriously. To date, the organisations with the power to send that signal have not done so.
We were very lucky to have had the opportunity to share that work at the Paris COP 21 meeting at a 1.5 hour side-event dedicated to ‘the pathway to low carbon shipping’. Speaking alongside several high ranking delegates including Foreign Minister Tony de Brum, Permanent Secretary of State for Denmark Thomas Egebo and former president of Costa Rica Jose Maria Figueres, and I (UCL Energy Institute Lecturer Director of the Shipping in Changing Climates project) outlined the challenge shipping faces, and the pathways that could be used for its transition. So far text remains in the Paris Climate Outcome to impress on IMO to undertake action to reduce emissions, and the next few days will be crucial for those involved in efforts to see that survive.
Its ironic that a satirical award could be the reason to start taking these sectors’ GHG’s seriously…
Photo credits: Avnita Goundar and Lars Hasselager Olsen
The New York Times: Building Greener Ships, to Keep the Sea From Rising
The Huffington Post: China Acts to Control Shipping Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Hellenic Shipping News: 9 Reasons 2015 Was a Green Year in Shipping