It is the existing ships that is the key to cut emissions

The shipping sector ‘can’t wait’ for new, low-carbon ships to enter its fleet if it is to cut CO2 emissions in line with Paris Agreement targets, according to a University of Manchester study published today.


According to the study, which is published in the journal BMC Energy, the sector is focusing too much on the development of new vessels to make shipping more climate-efficient. Totally wrong, according to the researchers from Manchester. Instead, the entire budget that the industry spends on this should be used to do something about the existing fleet. It’s those ships that will dominate the sector's impact on the climate.

The reason, of course, is that ships are long-lived. The “committed emissions” from journeys travelled during the rest of their lifespan, are higher than for other modes of transport. Without action, existing ships are expected to emit well over 100% of a Paris-compatible carbon budget.

The study provides several suggestions on how vessels can reduce their emissions, such as travelling at slower speeds, fitting new renewable rotor technologies, connecting to grid electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy saving measures.

So even if there is room for optimism, time is of the essence, the researchers say. if implemented quickly and at scale, the shipping sector could still fairly contribute to the Paris climate agreement goals, but if not, other sectors will need to cut their emissions deeper and faster to compensate.

In the study, researchers have used the EU's new emission monitoring system (EU MRV) to obtain data on carbon dioxide emissions, vessel age and scrapping. The system covers 11,600 vessels.