Jun 21, 2018 Boat World

In what has been described as history in the making, the global shipping industry has for the first time agreed to help tackle climate change – by halving its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The new international agreement follows a recent meeting of representatives from more than 170 nations at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in London. Countries that voted against the move included Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the US.

Like aviation, the global shipping industry has traditionally been excluded from climate change initiatives such as the Paris Agreement because they’re deemed to be an international activity. But shipping is a major pollution problem.

The International Council on Clean Transportation estimates that, if treated as a country, shipping would be the world’s sixth largest emitter of carbon dioxide – about the same as Germany.

This new development agreement is widely interpreted as the global shipping industry finally acknowledging that the move away from fossil fuels is inevitable and fast approaching.

A recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that using known technologies, including alternative fuels – and even electric or wind-assisted ships – could almost completely decarbonise the sector by 2035.

The UK’s shipping minister, Nusrat Ghani, says his government will be supporting the industry in the development of green technologies and fuels, and that these would provide opportunities for growth for UK maritime companies.

The IMO agreement is seen as particularly significant for Pacific island nations threatened by rising sea levels. Says the Marshall Islands’ environment minister, David Paul: “[This agreement] will determine whether Marshallese children born today will have the chance of a secure and prosperous life or will have to leave the land of their ancestors and set sail across the oceans to an uncertain future.”

Meanwhile, a new EU satellite tasked with tracking dirty air will become a powerful tool to monitor shipping emissions.

Sentinel-5P-Tropomi (S5P) was launched in October last year and recently completed its commissioning phase and has been monitoring nitrogen dioxide emissions.

Nitrogen dioxide is a product of marine diesel combustion, as well as the diesel used by motor vehicles. The new satellite allows operators to monitor emissions in far greater detail than before.

“The resolution from our previous instruments was about 20km by 20km,” says Pepijn Veefkind, an investigator with the Dutch met office. “Now, we’ve gone down to 7km by 3.5km, and we are thinking of going to even smaller pixels.”

By knowing the size of the global fleet, where it moves, the ships’ specifications and how much fuel they are likely consuming – it is possible to estimate how much CO₂, or indeed NO₂, is being pumped into the atmosphere from exhausts.