Could ban on use of fossil fuels by ships come in this decade?

Written by Nick Blenkey
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With pressure growing to cut GHG emissions from shipping even more rapidly than in current IMO goals, a new study suggests that a ban on the use of fossil fuels by the industry may be necessary by the latter half of this decade.

The #AHOY2050 future study—drafted by MAN Energy Solutions and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI)—outlines four scenarios that explore how to reach the maritime industry’s climate targets by 2050. It also considers consequences of a failure to do so.

“The maritime industry currently has a goal, but not yet a way to get there,” said Dr. Uwe Lauber, CEO of MAN Energy Solutions. “By 2050, the International Maritime Organization wants greenhouse-gas emissions to fall by 50%, however these targets have not yet been backed up by concrete measures.” According to Lauber: “Time is pressing—2050 is just a single ship-generation away.”

MAN Energy Solutions sees the study as a wake-up call.

“With shipping, everyone always talks about the technical side. Technically, however, the maritime energy transition has long been feasible. For years, the challenge has been at the political and an overall, societal level,” said Lauber. “Today, we can build engines that run on zero-emission fuels, but making the decision to ramp up synthetic fuels in the market is not something we can do alone.”

Maritime industry not isolated

The AHOY2050 study approaches shipping as part of a global ecosystem. Beginning with societal awareness of the problem and the importance of climate protection—and extending it to commodity prices, global economic development and COVID-19—a multitude of factors impact global shipping.

“It is these interrelationships that will largely determine how resolutely the maritime energy transition is pursued,” said Lauber.

Through four scenarios, the study shows possible development paths for the shipping industry and their ramifications. It views the marine industry as part of a global ecosystem that is sensitive to overall societal and economic decisions. In two of the scenarios, climate targets are met or even exceeded by 2050. By contrast, the other two scenarios point to the potential failure of climate policy.

According to one key take-away, left to market forces, the shipping industry could persist in a self-optimization mode where the focus would then be on further maximizing efficiency with no real change taking place. A regulatory framework supported by social consensus, on the other hand, could trigger not only such a technological change, but also a boom in shipping as a result. A complete ban on fossil fuels in the second half of the decade could significantly promote such a development, according to the study.

In Uwe Lauber’s view, “a smartly-set, global, regulatory framework can turn the decarbonization of shipping into a growth engine for the industry. After all, if the global supply chain is consistently geared toward climate protection, ships are far superior to all other modes of transport.”

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