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Decarbonization at risk amid divided opinions over future marine fuels: ICS

Uncertainty over sustainable marine fuel availability and infrastructure has put at risk the shipping industry’s pursuit of decarbonization, with opinions divided over the future bunker landscape, the trade association International Chamber of Shipping said May 16.

When releasing its annual survey of industry executives over top industry concerns, the ICS—which represents more than 80% of the world’s merchant tonnage through the national shipowners’ association—said respondents demonstrated “evolving” views over future fuels.

“Infrastructure for fuel availability at ports is an urgent concern for maritime leaders,” the ICS said in the Maritime Barometer Report 2022-2023. “There is also a paradox in play, with ports holding off on decisions about specific infrastructure ahead of confirmed market demand by shipowners. The fuel landscape is incredibly fragmented … . [There is] a discrepancy between when maritime leaders foresee low-carbon fuel and technology becoming available and when they are adopted.”

Among future fuel options, around 50% of the respondents named LNG as the most viable in the next decade when allowed to select more than one fuel, while over 45% went for biofuels. Ammonia and hydrogen were both backed by less than 30%.

The ICS survey received 132 full responses from executives representing shipowners, ship operators and managers, classification societies, trade organizations, service providers, shipbuilders, port authorities, marine insurers, and law firms in the summer of 2022.

In its reference case, S&P Global Commodity Insights expects LNG to account for 7.8% of the global bunker consumption of 328 million mt in 2030. Of low-carbon supplies, methanol is forecast to make up 34.3%, followed by battery/diesel at 20.4%, hydrogen at 16.8%, ammonia at 14.7%, battery propulsion at 6.9%, and biofuels at 6.2%.

“Availability would be a key consideration … and this likely plays a significant role in the belief in shipping’s continued reliance on fossil fuels and bridge fuels,” the ICS said. “This hesitance to divest from fossil fuels could pose a problem for maritime’s ability to reduce emissions and achieve its targets in 2030 and 2050.”

The International Maritime Organization has aimed to reduce the carbon intensity of cross-border shipping by 40% by 2030 and halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, against 2008 baselines, and member states are discussing proposals for tighter targets.

To reach those goals, the global regulatory body for shipping introduced its first set of GHG rules at the beginning of 2023 and could have more rigorous regulations later this decade.

“Shipowners, charterers, and operators experienced significant uncertainty about incoming regulations,” the ICS said. “For the second year in a row, respondents have continued to see regulations as the leading factor impacting operations.”

But the ICS said more respondents were confident in their ability to manage regulatory changes, with many operators taking proactive measures to liaise with regulatory bodies to ensure compliance.

Respondents identified political instability, financial instability, and cyberattacks as the top risks in the latest survey. In the pilot survey in 2021, epidemics, supply chain fragility, and trade barriers were the key concerns.

“As financial and political risk has risen, particularly due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, so too have concerns about companies’ capabilities in managing these issues,” the ICS said. “A key takeaway for this year is that although some risks hold the potential to have a serious impact on operations, maritime leaders have high confidence in the industry’s abilities to manage these situations.”
Source: Platts

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