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Milestone in shipping emission decrease - but what else could be changed?


International Maritime Organization (IMO) agreed in 2018 to limit the global maritime transport emissions within the next 30-some years. I applaud the agreement. However, I cannot avoid thinking: is it finally the time to start thinking about the maritime transportation value chain as a whole?


Earlier this week a great piece of news arrived, stating that the IMO member states have adopted an initial strategy to reduce the carbon emissions of global shipping by at least 50% in 2050 compared with 2008. (Read about this also from the UN Climate Change secretariat pages).

IMO states that “the vision confirms IMO’s commitment to reducing GHG emissions from international shipping and, as a matter of urgency, to phasing them out as soon as possible.”

This is a great initiative - the shipping industry has waited for something like this for a long time. The international shipping accounts for over 2 percent of global CO2 emissions. According to the 2015 IMO study (page 20), these emissions are to grow between 50 and 250 percent by 2050 if no action is taken.

What about the actions?

There is a discussion about cleaner fuels, renewable fuels, and emission free ships, to name a few. All discussions so far concentrate on the renewing of current fleet with a more eco-efficient one. It is also concentrating on shipping alone (of course as it is IMO discussion), without the discussion about the potential efficiency and waste decrease throughout the whole container transportation value chain. The latter would request collaboration, openness and perhaps, in the end, new business models and new ways of thinking the means of container transportation.

We live an era of digitalisation, full of opportunities. In shipping, this would perhaps mean shaping the industry with a new kind of collaboration between different partners and stakeholders. It should mean sharing the data with common platforms and decreasing the waste in the industry as a whole - including CO2 but also costs related to inefficiencies. We should take a look at new ways of working and collaboration.

We need all possible means to make the IMO target to happen, considering also benefits and challenges to the industry.

Why am I talking about new ways of thinking and digitalisation?

Digitised systems enable CO2 and fuel decrease, and for the most part it takes way less than 30+ years to implement them (in comparison to ship's lifetime).

According to certain studies, presently the shipping industry creates 19 million C02 equivalent tonnes per year by moving empty containers. This 19 million figure can be reduced, if/when the industry functions more efficiently. Then there would be less not-needed container moves, and there would be less emissions per container.

Digital solutions can, for example, enable a more effective use of terminal resources (cranes, gangs, etc.), help ships avoid situations when they first rush to ports, only then to be waiting for days (weeks!) outside terminals before unloads, improve vessel utilisation via better stowage plans, and plan optimal routing.

The list goes on, but you get the picture.

Digitalisation and open collaboration would enable us to significantly decrease industry’s CO2 emissions and costs. Combine this with engine development and we may achieve more than the IMO target - even before 2050. It is a big change, but changes have worked in other industries pretty well, in fact they have become the new normal.

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa says: “--a low-carbon and resilient future is the only way forward for the sustainability of maritime transport.”

I couldn't agree more.

What are your thoughts?
How can we best reduce emissions in the shipping and cargo handling industries? Do you think that the 2050 target is sufficient, or is it too late? Write your comments below, or join the discussion on Twitter with #smarterbettertogether.

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