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Ships must urgently cut CO2 emissions to meet global climate goals

In a new study, climate scientists at the Tyndall Centre have determined that the shipping sector cannot wait for new energy-efficient ships to come along to address the issue of harmful emissions.

Ships must urgently reduce their carbon footprint to support the global targets established by the Paris Agreement. Plans to cut back on shipping emissions have been mainly focused on the development of new, low-carbon ships.

However, the new study shows that CO2 emissions from existing ships will dominate the sector’s safe carbon budget, and will likely even exceed this budget before new ships are factored in. 

According to the research, policies designed to reduce shipping pollution must focus on updating and decarbonizing existing ships, rather than relying on more efficient ships to make progress. 

The researchers established multiple ways that existing ships can cut their lifetime emissions, such as traveling at slower speeds, adding new renewable technologies such as Flettner rotors, using grid electricity while in port, and adopting other energy saving measures.

“This research highlights the key role existing ships play in tackling the climate crisis,” said study co-author James Mason. “We must push for quick action for these ships, whether through speed reductions or other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion.”

The scientists found that if changes are implemented quickly, the shipping sector could still make its fair contribution to the Paris climate agreement. Otherwise, other sectors will have to compensate by cutting even more emissions on a shorter timescale. 

“The shipping industry continues to play a hugely important role in international trade and especially for our island nation, but this research highlights that the International Maritime Organisation’s current targets need to be substantially tightened to align with Paris goals,” said Professor Alice Larkin of the University of Manchester.

The study was focused on data from 11,000 ships included in the European Union’s new emissions monitoring scheme (EU MRV).

“Shipping is generally a greener way to transport freight than roads or planes, but its impact is still very large,” said study co-author Simon Bullock. “This research shows there is hope – shipping’s overall emissions could be dramatically reduced, if policy-makers act to cut the emissions from the existing fleet”.

The study is published in the journal BMC Energy.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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