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Is a Shipping Carbon Levy on the Way?

Shipping’s decarbonization plan is underway, but the way to get there, could be a challenge. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Intermodal said that “the imminent global shift towards eco-friendliness has caused divide among the shipping community because there is no outlined, clear-cut way via which shipowners can start approaching the future IMO targets. In 2018, the Marine Environmental Protection Committee adopted a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction strategy entailing (among others): reduction of CO2 emissions by at least 40% by 2030 and by at least 50% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels”.

According to Intermodal’s Dionysis Kourouniotis, Research & Valuations Department, “earlier this month, the 4th IMO GHG study forecasted that shipping emissions are due to increase by approximately 50% till 2050! This will undoubtedly speed up the need for effective GHG mitigation techniques in the maritime industry. It can be argued that realistic attainment of the IMO 2050 target will likely need to encompass a combination of market-based, technological, logistical and ship finance measures. Propulsion methods such as LNG and ammonia currently offer high yet expensive CO2 mitigation potentials. On the other hand, a bunker levy could offer a directly implementable and R&D cost-free approach towards the IMO targets”.

Kourouniotis said that “a bunker levy may be implemented by a direct carbon tax or an emission trading scheme (ETS). The latter is less desirable since it can only absorb (40-75)% of emissions captured by a current respective bunker levy. Carbon neutral fuels would set a zero-levy baseline; the levy could be increased with increasing carbon footprint of fuels. This method would require a tax per ton of CO2 ($/CO2) emission equivalent (as an industry benchmark). The three current levy implementation strategies proposed in 2019 by the Technical University of Denmark led by Dr. Harilaos Psaraftis include low, medium and high levy intensity strategies”.

Intermodal’s analyst added that “a horizontal IMO-imposed levy could be enacted on a gradual basis starting from 2023-24 to account for the current newbuilding orders placed. Current IFO price is at around $280/ton, therefore a carbon levy of $75/ton (even at a [15-25]% initial implementation) would increase fuel costs by approximately [5-7]%. Alternatively, a greater than 70% levy imposition by 2030 could be overly aggressive as it would require the timely development of GHG reduction technologies to avoid the shifting of costs from shipowners to end consumers. This is because total annual costs to the shipping industry would exceed $65 billion (computed based on BP’s Statistical Energy Review & Outlook, 2019). The revenue stream distribution of the carbon levy would have to be carefully allocated by the IMO. Arguably, a significant proportion of the funds would have to be used to finance greener shipbuilding methods (inclusive of R&D required) and end-products (vessels). The policy could also incentivize investment in eco-friendly vessel newbuildings by providing lower carbon taxation rates on vessels with better Energy Efficiency Design Indices (EEDIs)”.

“In conclusion, an industry-wide carbon levy may be an efficient approach towards carbon neutrality in shipping due to its direct implement-ability and cost-effectiveness. Regardless of the method(s) employed, successful and feasible GHG mitigation would need to impact all shipowners fairly; this could be accomplished by accurate assessment of each vessel’s carbon footprint. Achieving the IMO 2050 target will require sound collaboration among regulators, industry players and research and financial institutions which could in turn result in the much anticipated and needed re-designing of the international seaborne landscape”, Kourouniotis concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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