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Major shipping companies unprepared for low-carbon future

A new report by UK-based environmental organisation CDP warns that 18 of the world’s largest shipping companies are not on track to meet the IMO’s 2050 minimum 50% reduction target in greenhouse gas emissions. Only three of those firms are currently investing in carbon-neutral endeavors, the CDP claims

A new report by CDP claims slow steaming can reduce emissions by 30%, but is a short-term solution

MOST of the major shipping companies are not preparing for a transition to a low-carbon future, according to a new study published by environmental organisation CDP, because internal governance is weak and spending on technological innovation is limited.

The UK-based organisation that examines environmental efforts by corporations and which formerly called itself the Carbon Disclosure Project found that out of 18 major shipping companies, just three are actively pursuing low-carbon fuels.

NYK, Maersk and MOL make for the top three best-performing companies in this regard, while Cosco Shipping Energy Transport was the study’s worst performer, with Japan’s NS United and Euronav completing the bottom three.

CDP judged the 18 companies based on the efficiency of their existing fleets and their asset buying strategy, their low-carbon innovation activities and their internal climate governance.

In the short term, the study argued that slow steaming is a significant measure, slashing emissions by about 30%. Out of the 18 firms, 13 have slow steaming strategies but in different capacities.

“K Line, HMM, Euronav and Cosco Shipping Holdings disclose the adoption of super slow steaming strategies but details regarding the coverage of these strategies is limited,” the CDP said.

The organisation did note, though, that slow steaming could lead to more tonnage to make up for slower voyages, which could ultimately elevate the total emissions generated from the sector.

Slow steaming is being touted heavily by some corners of the industry as a quick first step to reducing emissions but is heavily opposed by others who claim it will stifle investment in innovation, disrupt trade and ultimately force more tonnage to the water.

The potential measure will likely be discussed in the International Maritime Organization next year, as governments decided to leave that conversation for another time during negotiations earlier this year.

In the short term, CDP suggests that retrofitting ships with more efficient propellers may be the most effective solution before considering the adoption of other solutions.

But slow steaming or other operational measures will likely only help for a limited amount of time and a low-carbon future will require low-carbon fuels and zero emissions vessels.

“Biofuels, hydrogen and ammonia-based fuels that can deliver significant emission reductions are under developed with only a few companies showing evidence of collaborating to facilitate their development,” the report said.

The sector is suffering from a gap between existing carbon-neutral technologies and the innovations that shipping companies are actually investing in.

“With the exclusion of NYK Line, which is collaborating on the development of zero emission vessels and Norden and Maersk, which are pioneering bio-fuel based carbon neutral voyages, no other companies are investing in technologies that are considered to be transformative,” the study found.

The study also acknowledged that the key impediment to investment into low-carbon technologies is strenuous financials; simply put, low-profit margins and high indebtedness are preventing firms from spending.

But part of the industry’s lag may be also explained by structural shortcomings because concrete policy directions from leadership are apparently absent.

“Board-level oversight of climate issues is very low compared with other sectors. Only three companies have a formal climate or environmental committee at the board level,” CDP said.

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