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Shipping remains off target in bid to resolve the zero-carbon conundrum

The fundamental question remains whether demand for, and supply of, scalable zero-emission fuels is going to accelerate quickly enough for the industry to hit its targets

Shipping remains only partially on track to reach its near term ambitions and industry executives remain deeply concerned about the lack of available fuels

THE shipping industry is not moving fast enough towards zero-carbon ships or fuels to meet current targets, risking further regulation and a more costly transition as a result.

According to an annual study which assesses the industry’s progress towards the milestone target of at least 5% scalable zero emission fuel being used by 2030, the industry remains off track across a series of crucial metrics.

Despite significant progress at the regulatory level within the International Maritime Organization, which successfully revised carbon reduction targets for 2050 in July this year, industry demand signals and scaling of fuel projects have not kept pace with the scale of regulatory ambition.

According to the now annual joint study authored by the Getting to Zero Coalition, Race to Zero and the UMAS consultancy, progress towards the benchmark 5% uptake target can still only be considered partially on track. This is due to a lack of progress in other areas, such as demand for scalable zero emissions fuels and specific technological and national policy developments, among others.

Despite a recent influx of zero-emissions capable ships to the fleet, the projections in the report suggest that well under half of the ships required to create the demand needed to hit 2025 targets are likely to emerge.

“Current trends in orders for zero-emission capable vessels suggest that around 30%-50% of the interim 2025 target would be achieved, but a much lower percentage, perhaps up to 20% of the 2030 target, could be expected,” explained the report.

The report also notes that zero-emission fuel production currently in operation or under construction, represents roughly 20% of the capacity needed to stay on track by 2025 and just 4% of what is required by 2030, without accounting for demand from other sectors.

The report, which was launched as industry leaders gathered in Athens for this year’s edition of the Global Maritime Forum, concludes that the 5% uptake goals are still well within reach, albeit with urgent acceleration of industry, finance and policy efforts.

However, there is a growing body of opinion, even among the most progressive shipping companies aligned to stringent decarbonisation goals, that the 2030 targets established by the reviewed IMO timeline, and considered by most climate analysts to be an absolute minimum target, are likely to prove overly ambitious.

While the GMF gather offers a skewed snapshot of industry opinion, there was considerable nervousness on show in Athens as executives discussed the position of shipping in competition with other sectors for the shortfall in zero carbon fuel.

“There is a huge lack of fuel,” noted Ioanna Procopiou, owner of Sea Traders during the opening session of the GMF on Wednesday.

“The zero emission capable ships are coming but the fuels are not,” echoed Lloyd’s Register chief executive Nick Brown. “The scale of the challenge to produce green fuels is being vastly underestimated”.

Part of the shift in attitude can be attributed to the IMO’s revision of its targets, which many had assumed would not be possible.

While the IMO’s revised ambition levels were being widely lauded by participants as an “historical moment” showing that the 5% uptake goal was within reach, privately many participants conceded that the short-term progress was not happening quickly enough.

Several also conceded that the industry had been caught off guard by the IMO’s agreement, which had been widely anticipated to fail, offering a useful scapegoat for lack of industry progress.

“I think it’s if some people have been caught on the hop, because they didn’t expect it too bad, but they’ll have to catch up,” said Poseidon Principles chair and Citi chairman of global shipping, logistics and offshore, Michael Parker.

Although the IMO’s revised trajectory requires an accelerated pace of progress the absence of concrete global measures to achieve the strategy’s goals has left the industry in something of a policy hinterland. Because these measures are expected to be implemented after 2027, industry and national governments need to make concerted, immediate efforts via national policy to make best use of the intervening period.

If the industry is perceived as having fallen behind, there is a growing concern that the inevitable response from governments will be to target shipping further.

“Some of the regulation will come with certain targets, and the reality is we might not meet some of these targets, which probably means that we’re just going have to double down on regulation again,” said GMF chairman and president of Cargill Ocean Transportation, Jan Dieleman.

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