Q&A—Part 1: Blue Sky Maritime on net zero emissions for shipping

Written by Heather Ervin
David Cummins of Blue Sky Maritime on reducing emissions in shipping

David Cummins, president of Blue Sky Maritime Coalition.

In Part 1 of a two-part Q&A series with Blue Sky Maritime Coalition President David Cummins, Marine Log finds out what the organization is all about and how it hopes to strategically accelerate the transition of waterborne transportation in Canada and the U.S. toward net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Cummins, who is also an independent consultant currently working for Shell Trading U.S. Company as a Shipping Decarbonization Advisor, gives us the scoop.

Marine Log (ML): What are the primary goals of Blue Sky Maritime?

David Cummins (DC): Blue Sky Maritime Coalition was set up to advance sectoral decarbonization in the maritime industry across the United States and Canada. We saw a lot of work going on at the global level, and in very small regional or in specific ports, but no one was really looking at the U.S. and Canada, which have some unique challenges. So, we pulled together several CEOs along the entire value chain, from shipping companies, port authorities, classification service providers, the U.S. Coast Guard, ship charters, fuel providers, engine manufacturers, etc., and asked the question, does the world really need another coalition? And the answer kept coming back, yes. And what we kept coming back to is the major roadblock [to decarbonization] is that regional/domestic challenges are unique in the U.S. and Canada, and this industry doesn’t collaborate.

The maritime industry works in a very step-wise sequential way. If we have any chance of achieving decarbonization in the U.S. and Canada, or anywhere, it is going to have to happen with unprecedented collaboration. We’re not really inventing new technology or fuels; we’re learning how to scale them. We’re not inventing new regulations or policies, or even new commercial and financial constructs. What we are inventing is a way for the entire industry to work as a single group, rather in a sequence with chicken and egg scenarios.

The goal that we set up, our overall mission, was to move the waterborne transportation industry in Canada and the U.S. to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We also wanted to ensure that we are action oriented, identifying roadblocks and then executing pilot and demonstration projects to overcome those barriers up and down the value chain, from end consumers that cause things to be moved on water or people that ride on ferries and cruise ships, to shipyards and steel mills with zero emissions.

Our main strategy is to encourage innovation in commercial and operational practices that reduce emissions as quickly as possible. Our mantra is we won’t get there through incremental improvement. We have to think big from a vision of the future where it is decarbonized, and then start small and scale fast—because 2050 is very close. What differentiates us from other coalitions in the space is that we are 100% action driven.

ML: What environmental factors happening now will impact the future of shipping and what can be done to mitigate any issues, whether regulatory or environmental, related to emissions?

DC: I can take that question a couple of different ways. Environmental factors that influence shipping, or I can talk about shipping factors that influence the environment, because I think both are important. But on the former, the impacts of climate change affect shipping. So much of the world’s products move around the globe on water. Even within a region like the U.S. and Canada, a lot of that is happening. The warming of the arctic is creating new ship channels, which could be seen as a positive in the short term. But you’re also seeing a lot of storms that impact the U.S. and Canada coastal, intracoastal and inland waterways where the environment is impacting shipping. Right now, shipping accounts for about 3% of the entire global GHG emissions of any kind, not just transportation emissions. And if we don’t figure out how to address this the impact of shipping on the environment will grow as other sectors abate their emissions.

The other thing I’d say about the second part of your question is that there’s a tendency in the U.S. to just go our own way on environmental regulations, and that can be damaging if it cuts the U.S. off from global supply chains and starts to raise the cost of products that the U.S. only market isn’t deep enough to amortize, such as the large costs for testing and safety certification. That’s only going to grow over time as we start using fuels like ammonia that have very high toxicity, or with hydrogen with much more prevalent dangers like fires and explosions. So as we make change, everything has to move in a very collaborative way.

We can’t do research on a new fuel first, then research on the technology of how to use and store that fuel, and how to use a vessel that runs on that fuel, and then start bringing in the classification groups to do the testing and certification that this is safe and can be done in a way that’s appropriate, and then bring in the regulatory body and the policy makers.  This is the step-wise sequential nature of how everything works today—a very slow process.

So, the key answer to your question of what can be done is we have to work together. What you’ll keep hearing from me over and over again is the need for collaboration.

Part 2 of our interview with Cummins and Blue Sky Maritime Coalition will appear in the next edition of Marine Log’s Health & Sustainability Newsletter on January 1.

Categories: Environment, Perspectives, Q&As, Shipping Tags: , , , , ,