Wednesday, May 1, 2019

As Freight Tonnages Recover and Slow Steaming Disappears Comes a Cry for Speed Controls

If Ocean Shipping is to Meet its Climate Change Commitments Mandatory Rules Are Needed
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – 'Slow Steaming' has become a familiar term, particularly to those in the ocean container freight sector, and now over 110 shipping companies along with 9 environmental groups have joined together to call on the Member States of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to support mandatory speed measures to reduce emissions from the shipping industry.

In an open letter to the IMO, the signatories highlighted that effectively addressing climate change is possibly the greatest challenge of our time. In 2015 world governments agreed in Paris that global temperature rise must be limited to well below 2ºC, while aiming for 1.5ºC compared to pre-industrial levels. A recent IPCC 1.5º Special Report also recommended ‘deep emissions reductions’ to achieve these temperature goals.

In responding to the global challenge, Member States of the IMO agreed in April 2018 on an Initial Greenhouse Gas Strategy for the international shipping sector, calling for shipping emissions to peak as soon as possible, for shipping's carbon intensity to be reduced by at least 40% by 2030 and for total emissions to be cut by at least 50% by 2050, when compared to 2008, while aiming for full decarbonisation. In order to achieve these targets, new operational measures will need to be implemented for both the existing fleet and new ships and immediate reductions achieved by 2023.

Since the April 2018 agreement several candidate measures have been proposed including speed regulation for all ships. Recent history shows that reducing the global fleet’s operation speed after the 2008 economic crash led to dramatic reductions in GHG emissions. This speaks to the real-world effectiveness of a potential prescriptive speed measure in helping achieve reduction targets.

The hidden reason for this ‘environmental’ measure is of course the glut of capacity, as ever more mega box carriers were launched, whilst tonnages were in the doldrums. Keeping the freight on the water longer reduces the costs of transport whilst allowing more cargo to build up for carriage from the ports, thus maximising revenue for the carriers. However, recent studies also suggest that ships are speeding up again as global demand recovers. Should this trend continue, any GHG gains from slow steaming over recent years will soon disappear.

The signatories to the letter unite in stressing the urgent need for shipping to make its appropriate contribution to addressing climate change at the IMO’s forthcoming Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting, concluding that:

“As the initial step we express our strong support for the IMO implementing mandatory regulation of global ship speeds differentiated across ship type and size categories. Our preference would be to set maximum annual average speeds for container ships, and maximum absolute speeds for the remaining ship types, which take account of minimum speed requirements. Such a regulation should be implemented as soon as possible and the obligation for compliance should be placed both on ship owners and operators, including charterers.”