Wednesday, 7 December 2011

From a Clean Concept to Cleaned Up Seas

Just under ten years ago, North Sea Ministers acknowledged that a new approach would be needed to minimise the impact of commercial shipping on the environment. The ‘Clean Ship Concept’ was born and whilst the idea has gained momentum amongst global policy makers and shipping companies alike, the maritime sector still has much to do in order to realise its green potential.

It’s important to acknowledge here why the shipping industry must change. For good reason it is seen as a sector that reacts to environmental incidents rather than acting in advance to stop them, and when it does act, the industry is judged to move so slowly that to the outside world it gives the impression of a sector with little interest in its environmental responsibilities.

This might seem unfair when viewing the numerous environmental initiatives being pursued by the better ship operators and ports, but the list of concerns remains long: non-indigenous species are still being transported by ships with devastating consequences for marine biodiversity; global ship SOx and NOx emissions are still staggeringly high and impacting on life expectancy the world over; negligent operators are still dumping their ship waste at sea, ships are still ending their lives being dismantled on beaches by children, and the industry has very visibly failed to grasp the challenge posed by climate change and put in place measures that will reverse the huge projected rise in ship GHG emissions.

These and many other examples testify to the fact that the Clean Ship Concept is a long way from being properly implemented, and regulators recognise this: according to the OSPAR Commission the approach “still needs to be implemented in maritime and environmental policies” and further efforts are needed “to mitigate adverse effects of shipping”.

What is the Clean Ship Concept?

A Clean Ship is designed, constructed, operated and recycled in a manner that eliminates harmful discharges and emissions, and one that is energy and resource efficient in its daily operation.

A Clean Ship operation maximises the opportunities for safe and environmental navigation while at the same time provides all possible safeguards in the event of an accident. It requires a shipping sector that puts environmental protection first and where a "safety culture" is at its heart.

While the Clean Ship concept reaches into every corner of shipping practice, two areas - GHG emissions from ships and ship-source marine litter - are of particular interest to Seas At Risk.

Clean Ships and Climate Change

Perhaps the most pressing challenge facing the shipping sector is its contribution to tackling climate change. The industry currently emits circa 3% of global GHG emissions and this is projected to rise to 6% by 2020.

First tasked by the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the shipping sector only in July of this year agreed on a legally binding measure to reduce its GHG emissions in the form of the IMO’s Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI). The adoption of this tool should result in slowing the growth of emissions . However, such an outcome will only result in the longer term and it is deep, short term cuts in emissions that are also urgently required if emissions are to peak soon and if warming is to be kept to below dangerous levels. For such a scenario, there is sadly nothing on the table from the shipping sector to deliver anything like this.

If there really were few options then one might have sympathy for shipping, but studies by the IMO have shown that the industry has many technical and operational options for reducing emissions, that deep cuts (up to 75%) are possible with known technology and practices, and that cuts of circa 20% are possible at zero cost.
Apart from the EEDI the response of the IMO has been endless wrangling over matters of principle, and a protracted debate about emissions trading, another approach that will only deliver in the longer-term and likely only result in reductions in other sectors. This is hardly a good advert for the shipping industry.

An area of particular interest to SAR is speed reduction, where deep cuts in emissions are possible in the short term. A study of our own from 2009 showed that a cut in emissions of up to 30% was possible by slowing the fleet down just to the extent that it brought currently redundant capacity back into use. More work is being undertaken by Seas At Risk on the advantages of mandatory slow steaming and how it might be implemented. While the industry has used slow steaming to deal with high fuel prices and fleet overcapacity, it has so far at least refused to support an approach that would mandate slow steaming for the whole fleet and secure those very substantial speed related GHG emission gains in the longer term.

Clean ship options for tackling GHG emissions exist but are not being adopted.

No Place for Waste
Marine litter is fast becoming a major environmental, social and industrial problem, and ships are an important source. The Clean Ship approach would entail minimised onboard waste production, a total ban on dumping garbage into the sea and delivery of non-incinerated waste to port reception facilities. Here, the approach can play a big part tackling this growing problem.

And the enormity of the task is truly engulfing. New ocean garbage patches are being discovered across the globe; beaches in the North East Atlantic have on average 712 pieces of litter per 100m; marine litter costs the Scottish fishing fleet as much as €13 million each year; concerns about plastics entering the food chain are ever growing; and estimates suggest that 6.5 million tonnes of plastics are dumped each year by the shipping and fishing sectors.

Incentives intended to discourage dumping of waste at sea are simply not working and the more unscrupulous operator can make big cost savings by dumping their waste over the side, rather than paying at a port reception facility.

Across the majority of European ports it is the financial disincentive that is a key problem and the use of a direct fee that discourages the discharging of waste in port and rather encourages dumping at sea. In order to truly combat this problem, European ports must have a more harmonised approach, in part following Baltic ports, and administering a No-Special-Fee across the region.

With a more harmonised approach, technologies such as compacting devises will take a precedent over incinerators and the likelihood of serious markets in ship waste recycling will become more of a reality rather than a pipe dream. This can only be a positive for ports.

Cleaner ships in the future

For both the issues of climate change and marine waste, ships can and must move much closer to the Clean Ship ideal.

An important premise of the Clean Ship Concept is that growth in global shipping has to be uncoupled from the environmental harm it causes. Despite taking a knock from the recent recession the shipping industry is still projected to grow dramatically in the years ahead and this makes operationalising the Clean Ship Concept an urgent task. Regulators must move faster to green the sector, shippers must intervene to ensure their goods are shipped in the most environmentally sound manner, and ports must encourage and incentivise Clean Ship practices. With this kind of holistic approach, the concept can become reality.

By Chris Carroll. The article has been amended but first appeared in Green Port Magazine earlier this year.