Report: Slower steaming could cut ship emissions by 15%

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If ships were obliged to immediately cut their speeds, they could also slash 15% of their carbon emissions and save billions in lower ship fuel bills, according to a new report.

The report, ‘Regulated slow steaming in maritime transport’ by the consultants CE Delft, says that if global average maritime speeds were reduced by 10%, carbon dioxide savings would rise to 19%, even after the cost of building and operating new ships to make up for lost capacity was considered.

“Regulated slow steaming can produce emissions reductions by 2030 and 2050 which rival any other reduction option being considered at IMO or EU level,” said John Maggs of Seas At Risk, one of the groups that commissioned the report. “And it can do so with a sizeable economic gain.”

The International Maritime Organisation, or IMO, is the UN body that oversees shipping safety and pollution.

International shipping currently accounts for some 4.5% of global CO2 emissions but unless action is taken, the UN Environment Programme predicts that this figure could rise to between 10% and 32% by 2050.

Kyoto Protocol

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol called on the IMO to reduce emissions from international shipping but agreement has proved elusive.

Last May, EU finance ministers called for the IMO to “develop without delay a global policy framework that avoids competitive distortions or carbon leakage” and suggested carbon pricing of maritime emissions as a potential source of revenues.

As frustration with the shipping industry’s lack of urgency in tackling the emissions issue mounted, in July EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that it was “high time” for an IMO agreement.

“Much as we prefer a global solution,” she continued, “the member states and the European Parliament have asked the Commission to present a possible proposal to reduce shipping emissions for 2012 in the case that the IMO fails to find a solution.”

However, the EU’s trade directorate strongly opposes any marshalling of shipping into the EU’s Emissions Trading System, and new proposals might need to wait until the current row over the inclusion of aviation is resolved.

Speed reduction

The CE Delft report was reportedly commissioned after the IMO dismissed speed reduction as a way to tackle climate change impacts from ships.  

“The case for speed reduction is as compelling as it is obvious; it’s time for regulators to sit up and pay attention,” said Bill Hemmings of Transport & Environment, which co-commissioned the report.

The report was launched as the IMO opened its 63rd Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting. The shipping body is also resuming its discussions on technical, operational and market-based approaches to tackle CO2 emissions.

Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping operators, has held extensive trials into slow steaming, which it describes as “a win-win situation” for the industry and environment.

In June 2006, the Commission adopted a Green Paper for EU maritime policy, launching a one-year consultation that closed on 30 June 2007.

The purpose of the policy was to gather together sectors which had been treated separately – fisheries, shipbuilding, port activities, tourism, coastal management, environmental protection and maritime safety – taking into account that actions in one field often had knock-on effects in other areas.

Oceans are crucial for Europe, with maritime regions home to 40% of the European population and sea-based and coastal activities providing for some five million jobs and 40% of the EU's income.

  • International Maritime OrganisationIMO

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