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Maersk could cut CO2 faster with retrofits, says UCL

Maersk has declared its intent of becoming the first shipping line to achieve zero-emission shipping, introducing a specific segment on its progress in this year’s sustainability report. Responding to this report from leading expert Dr Tristan Smith, at University College London offered the following insight:

“Maersk provide a useful graphical illustration of their ambitions on GHG emissions. Notwithstanding that this is the proposal for action by a single company and not the entire sector, if this rate of GHG reduction were applied across the sector, it is not close to what is needed to ensure that the 1.5 degree temperature goal is obtained, unless shipping’s share of emissions is allowed to grow significantly relative to other sectors.

“For the 1.5 temperature goal, the shape of the decarbonisation curve is crucial and requires immediate peaking and dramatic GHG reduction in the short term that is sustained until emissions reach zero. According to the CO2 trajectory shown, Maerk’s ambition on CO2, relative to their 2008 emissions, appears to be:
– 0% reduction by 2030 (e.g. emissions rises of the period between 2008 and 2020 are cancelled out by some small reduction between 2020 and 2030
– ~25% reduction by 2045
– 100% reduction by 2050

“A more Paris-temperature-goal-aligned trajectory requires larger absolute emission reductions in 2030 but particularly in the 2040’s; it is not sufficient to have 75% of the emission reductions necessary achieved between 2045 and 2050 because the risks of dangerous climate change are a function of the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere, not the absolute levels at a point in time.

“However, I believe there is a key conservative assumption behind this curve which is that they assume that only new ships built from 2030 could be used with new non-fossil fuel sources and be zero emission ships. This makes significant emission reduction in the 2030’s and early 40’s difficult because there are still many ships built before the 2030s in operation at that point.

“What their curve therefore usefully demonstrates is the very limited further opportunity for emission reduction once energy efficiency improvements have been fully exploited, and the urgent need therefore to develop fuel solutions that allow use of alternatives to fossil fuel as retrofits to the existing fleet, as well as in new-buildings. With such improvements, the GHG emissions trajectory proposed by Maersk for their fleet could be significantly improved particularly in the 2030’s and 2040’s and be much more consistent with the Paris temperature goals. Although even if the fleet could be modified consistent with the goals, this of course then presents a challenge as to whether the developments in the energy system can ensure adequate supply of the requisite quantities of non-fossil fuel and energy.”

Maersk 2018 Sustainability Report [PDF]

Source: GSCC Network, University College London

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