Are Ship Speed Limits the Answer to the Pollution Problem?
The shipping industry’s mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is going strong with a new initiative of enforcing ship speed limits. More than a hundred shipping companies have pledged their support for this venture as a way to lower fuel consumption. But even with such backing, not everyone believes it’s the best option to cut emissions.
Need for less speed
According to the agreement reached by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2018, the shipping sector has to reduce its global emissions by at least 50% by 2050 and CO2 emissions by at least 40% by 2030. Until a permanent plan to reach these goals can be agreed upon, short-term measures are proposed such as ship speed limits, also known as slow steaming.
Curbing speeds at 20% below the 2012 average can lessen harmful emissions by 24%-34%, reports a study funded by the European Commission. The effectiveness of this strategy has already been proven in real life, as emissions from shipping were much lower between 2008 and 2012 due to vessels slowing down. Admittedly, it wasn’t environmental reasons that encouraged this move, but the global economic decline. Nevertheless, it showed that slow steaming can deliver a positive outcome in greenhouse gas control.
Definite ship speed limits are not yet set, but it’s proposed to cap cargo vessel speed to about 16 knots (18mph) compared to their previous speed of about 24 knots. However, rules have to take into account different vessel types when setting the limits to ensure all ships stay efficient in carbon reduction and fuel consumption. For this reason, further impact assessments are still needed to get the full picture. But even without them, some shipowners are convinced that ship speed limits are not the best choice for the shipping market.
Without hurry, there’s worry
Opponents of the measure argue that speed is not the only thing which will slow down if such limits become common practice. They claim that ship operators may be lulled into a false sense of security and stop looking into the development of new innovations to meet environmental goals. However, proponents of the scheme are sure that this short-term solution is only a supplement and not a barrier to technological progress that still needs time to deliver tangible results.
Critics also point out that ship speed limits can turn out to be a counterintuitive move. As the global demand grows, the speed of service is important to ensure competitive advantage and client satisfaction, especially in the container shipping sector. Slowing their cargo vessels would mean that in order to stay on schedule and maintain the quality of services, companies would have to use and order more ships. The emissions of additional vessels on the water, combined with emissions from the construction of the newbuilds, could potentially offset any gains in greenhouse gas savings from slower speeds.
Not to mention, when transporting some goods, time is of the essence. For example, the exporters of avocados, cherries and blueberries – Chile and Peru – are concerned that ship speed limits could have a negative effect on their trade. The delays it would cause could reach 11 days or even more, resulting in ruined goods and the distortion of trade, case studies from these countries show.
As the discussions and the search for optimal speed are still ongoing, find out what other experts & shipowners have to say about it and what initiatives are in the pipeline for maritime at the 4th International Green & Smart Shipping Summit in Rotterdam on 8-9 October 2019. Check out the speaker lineup, agenda and other details at www.gssummit.org.