As COP27 begins, what can shipping do to help restore oceans?

November 7, 2022 /

Egypt are hosting the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP 27) this month, tackling the global challenge of climate change.

The UN says progress on cutting the emissions that cause global warming has been "woefully inadequate" since COP26. The planet has already warmed 1.1C since pre-industrial times and scientists say rises must be limited to 1.5C by 2100 to avoid the worst impacts, with experts predicting that carrying on with current policies would lead to a rise as high as 2.8C this century.

The UN Foundation’s Senior Advisor and Senior Director for Ocean and Climate Susan Roffo has spoken to the United Nations Foundation about what is at stake for the world's oceans, and what the shipping industry can do to help.

She explains that generally, the shipping industry is dealing with a lot of the same things that communities are dealing with: the impacts of sea-level rise on port infrastructure; major storms disrupting port operations and the movement of goods. More than 80% of goods travel by ship, so shipping is a huge component of the global economy. COVID-19 illustrated shipping’s importance to us. What we don’t know yet, however, is how ships on the water are actually affected by climate change, for example, by more severe and more frequent storms. We’re just beginning to understand some of that.

With the breakup of sea ice at the poles, some people are starting to talk about routes that will open up through the north. If you’re a shipping company, that might look positive. But if you’re a conservationist working on Arctic conservation or an Arctic community that depends on the ocean for your livelihood, that’s not great. Many more ships could be coming through sensitive ecological areas.

Until recently, the ocean was rarely mentioned at a climate COP. In fact, the word “ocean” did not appear in text until the Paris COP in 2015. An understanding of the ocean’s role in climate change and its potential to provide climate solutions didn’t really gain traction until 2019, at the COP hosted by Chile in Madrid. Chile really championed this as the first “Blue COP.” Then, last year, at COP 26 in Glasgow, a new annual Ocean and Climate Dialogue was established within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — so finally, an official forum.

Countries will be showcasing some of the solutions they’re developing, for example, using mangroves or coral reefs to help buffer communities, or decarbonizing their domestic shipping sectors. Also, as countries develop their plans to reduce emissions, called nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, projects like offshore wind power will be in the spotlight. The goal is to have more and more countries learn, adapt, and implement ocean-based solutions.

There are also some EU side events with the European Commission Mobility and Transport sector hosting a Decarbonising Shipping conference - Opportunities and Support for Developing Countries. This event presents what the EU is doing to decarbonise shipping, focusing on our cooperation with developing countries and with stakeholders across the entire maritime transport value chain. They will explain the breadth of commitment to promoting sustainable solutions and green technologies. Panellists will relate their experiences of tackling the multifaceted issue of decarbonisation, as well as the challenges and opportunities that the transition presents. There will also be a Cutting Transport Emissions through Infrastructure: Insights from building the Trans-European Transport Network conference, which will explore how transport infrastructure can help us meet global climate targets, learning from the EU’s experience with the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T). This network of strategic transport infrastructure has innovation and digital solutions built in to improve infrastructure use and reduce environmental and climate impacts. The event will place the EU’s experience in a global context; decisive steps are needed worldwide to meet international climate goals.

According to CBC, the shipping industry is responsible for three per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions — an amount equivalent to what Germany emits every year. But across the globe, 99 per cent of shipping is currently powered by burning fossil fuels, such as bunker fuel and marine diesel. Much of COP is expected to focus on the decarbonizing challenges facing the shipping industry far more prominently than in the past. It's expected the entire sector will be encouraged into setting a more ambitious timeline to decarbonize, and lay out targets to hit along the way.

The shipping industry's regulator, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), has set a target of cutting greenhouse emissions in half by 2050. To meet the Paris Agreement's 1.5 C global heating target, shipping emissions would need to be completely eliminated by 2080, and this target is seen by many as rather underwhelming. To try and push change along 22 nations came together at the Glasgow COP conference to sign the Clydebank Declaration. The intent was to create "green corridors" to spur ports and shipping companies to build or retrofit their facilities along specific routes where new, greener fuels will be produced and stored. But while the United States and many European nations have signed onto the declaration, key shipping nations such as South Korea, China and South Africa have not.

The shipping industry have began to decarbonise but there is a long road ahead. Efforts to become greener are taking longer than other industries because of the sheer size and scale. Transition to low carbon is going to take time, and improving energy efficiency is vital to becoming more carbon neutral, and while there are now more than 200 pilot projects around the world dedicated to carbon neutrality in shipping, major capital investments in facilities such as fuel production and storage are badly needed. Please refer to one of our previous blog posts on decarbonisation for more information.

COP27 hopes to pave the way for building on the outcomes of COP26 to deliver action on an array of issues critical to tackling the climate emergency – from urgently reducing greenhouse gas emissions, building resilience, and adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change, to delivering on the commitments to finance climate action in developing countries. Hopefully this is a building brick for more sustainable change for shipping in the years to come.

Source: BBC / / / CBC