Moving towards more environmentally friendly ― or green shipping ― is necessary. However, it is a formidable challenge, especially in our continent Asia, which accounts for the bulk of global shipping and port operations. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions ― and other negative externalities of the shipping activities. However, these may later bounce back to pre-pandemic levels and then continue to increase, if measures to mitigate the environmental impacts are not put in place.
Green shipping – measures and pathways
Technological innovations play a fundamental role in green shipping. The deployment of currently known technological, operational or energy-related innovations could make it possible to reach almost complete decarbonisation of maritime shipping by 2035 (source: International Trade Forum, 2018).
Because of the complexity of shipping operations, one measure alone is very unlikely to be the most cost-effective way to achieve decarbonisation of shipping. Instead, a mixture of technological, operational and fuel-related measures is required. Different combinations of measures would generate different decarbonisation pathways, and the implementation of one measure might be incompatible with another. In addition to encouraging the use of new technologies, strong leadership by policymakers, setting clear decarbonisation and other targets are essential conditions required for decarbonisation.
Numerous global regulations have been formulated and measures have been taken to regulate and protect clean air and the marine environment with some major breakthroughs achieved in recent years. IMO (International Maritime Organization) is leading the global regulatory work in this field.
Initiatives in support of green shipping
Faced with the challenges associated with climate change, IMO member countries ― including India ― have also recently agreed on several major initiatives in the environmental protection area. At the 72nd session of the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee, held from 9-13 April 2018, they agreed to reduce total annual greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050 based on 2008 emission levels.
According to the IMO-phased greenhouse gas reduction strategy, emissions from new ships should be reduced by 20% from 2020, and by 30% from 2023 or 2025, depending on ship type. In addition, the carbon intensity of new and existing ships should be reduced by 40% by 2030 and by 70% by 2050.
In all, there is strong global leadership and momentum in support of green shipping through the setting of ambitious targets and the identification of mechanisms for reaching them. Greening shipping is imperative, but it is also an opportunity for Asia-Pacific. Potentially, it could play a leading role in the global transformation of the shipping sector, placing the task of greening shipping at the forefront of its regional development strategy.
Transition to eco-friendly shipping offers a tremendous opportunity to address a variety of problems at the forefront of development challenges. These include industrial development, reduction of transport costs, decreasing energy consumption, mitigating the impact of climate change, and reducing local air and noise pollution and traffic congestion. Eco-friendly vessels are already being built in the major shipyards in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Some experts consider that eco-friendly ship technology could seriously boost the currently stagnant ship-building industry, and even be an important factor in global competition among the shipyards.
Role of Asia-Pacific
To support the transition to green shipping, developing Asia-Pacific economies need to continue to enhance their human and institutional capacity to meet the related global and regional targets. While often framed as a challenge, the transition to safer, more efficient and green shipping is a unique development opportunity for India, which has the potential to realize its other development goals related to industrial development, greater competitiveness, protecting the environment and mitigating the impact of the climate change, and also increase the well-being and quality of life of its population.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how crucial such cooperation is for more sustainable use of the oceans and how fragile it may be in the time of great disruptions. Robust mechanisms, rooted in countries-driven and result-oriented regional cooperation in green shipping, need to be put in place to help countries to act jointly when they need to the most.