Two big announcements in the world of shipping this week signal that the sector is ready to break with the past and move to a clean future
Singapore, the world’s busiest port, has just announced that it is banning discharges from ships that have fitted ‘open loop scrubbers’ - devices that allow ships to continue running on heavy fuel oil – some of the world’s dirtiest fuel - while dumping captured pollutants into the sea. This is a significant move because scrubbers not only pose unknown risks to the marine environment but they also increase the greenhouse gas emissions of ships. This welcome move by Singapore follows similar bans in Belgium and Germany's Rhine River, with China also expected to introduce a ban in their inland waters next year. From 1 January 2020, ships will have to reduce the sulphur content of the fuels they use in order to reduce the damage to human health and the environment caused by the sulphur emissions. In order to comply ships can either burn low sulphur fuel directly or install a scrubber to remove the sulphur from the emissions. Scrubbers were included as a compliance option at the request of the shipping lobby but unfortunately this showed a lack of foresight and has only served to sow confusion about what the right investment strategy is for complying - find cleaner fuels or try to clean the smoke stack. With the International Maritime Organization(IMO) having recently agreed to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 50% by 2050 the sensible option is to use low sulphur fuel but that has not stopped many companies investing in scrubbers. This important move by Singapore should cause all shippers to rethink. Meanwhile, the world’s largest shipping company Maersk has announced a target to reduce its contribution to global warming to zero by 2050, stating that climate change was an existential risk they had to address. A great example of leadership that we hope many others will follow.
Shipping and the IMO have been criticised for being slow to act on the threat of climate change but now that they are catching up they have the potential to craft new regulations and incentives that will drive huge investments into new technologies and fuels. The legal framework for making this happen will start to be debated next spring and we look forward to engaging with stakeholders from across the globe to help shape the outcome.