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  • Writer's pictureCommercial Awareness

Navigating the Future of Shipping: Climate Change and Pandemic Challenges

By Imogen Fortescue

In recent years, the global shipping industry has faced a double-edged sword of challenges: the ongoing threat of climate change and the disruptive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. These twin issues have raised crucial questions about the sustainability and resilience of maritime transportation. As we look ahead, it becomes increasingly evident that the industry must adapt and innovate to ensure a more sustainable and resilient future.

The shipping industry has long been recognised as a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), it’s responsible for around 2-3% of global emissions, a number expected to grow without intervention. The industry’s reliance on fossil fuels, primarily heavy bunker oil, has been a significant driver of these emissions.

In response to this challenge, the IMO implemented the International Maritime Organisation’s GHG Strategy in 2023 and set the ambitious goal of reducing the industry’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030. The IMO has a series of ever-challenging emission targets, and achieving these targets requires the development and deployment of new technologies, alternative fuels, and operational improvements.

One key aspect of addressing climate change in shipping is transitioning away from traditional fossil fuels. Liquid natural gas (LNG), hydrogen, and ammonia have emerged as potential alternative fuels. These options produce fewer carbon emissions, making them more environmentally friendly choices. However, implementing these fuels at scale poses significant challenges, including infrastructure development, cost considerations, and safety concerns.

In addition to alternative fuels, improving the energy efficiency of vessels is essential. Advanced propulsion systems, optimised hull designs, and better onboard technologies can reduce fuel consumption and emissions. And recent developments, Cargill has chartered a coin-taker ship fitted with ‘Cargo Wings’ a sail-like technology with is expected to reduce the emission of a ship by about 30% over their lifetime. As evidenced here, some shipping companies are already investing in modernising their fleets with these technologies to stay ahead of regulatory changes and minimise their carbon footprint.

The Pandemic’s Impact on Shipping

While climate change is a slow-moving threat, the Covid-19 pandemic had an immediate and profound effect on global shipping. Ports faced disruptions, crew members were stranded onboard for extended periods, and demand for certain goods surged while others plummeted. This highlighted the industry’s vulnerability to unforeseen disruptions.

To build resilience, the shipping sector has started to adopt digital solutions for better supply chain management and remote monitoring of vessels. These technologies enable real-time tracking, predictive maintenance, and more efficient route planning, which can help mitigate the impacts of future crises.

The future of shipping must strike a balance between innovation and regulation. Governments and International organisations must continue to work together to establish clear, consistent, and enforceable standards for emissions reductions. The shipping industry itself must embrace innovation and invest in sustainable practices.

Developing a circular economy within the industry is also crucial. This involves reducing waste and reusing materials wherever possible. It means designing ships and their components with recycling and sustainability in mind so that at the end of their operational lives, they can be dismantled, recycled, or repurposed with minimal environmental impact.

The role of climate in shipping is not a matter to be downplayed, not only does mass-scale shipping contribute to the carbon emissions problem but more extreme weather conditions; droughts, flooding, and unpredictable weather events pose a threat not only to the ‘just in time’ model but also to the communities and industries who rely on this method of transport.

The challenges posed by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have forced the shipping industry to reckon with its vulnerabilities and impact on the environment. The path forward requires a holistic approach addressing environmental and operational concerns.

Innovation, investment, and international collaboration are the keys to a sustainable and resilient future for shipping. The industry’s transition toward alternative fuels, enhanced energy efficiency, and digitalisation should be supported by robust regulations and a commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

As we navigate the complex waters of the future, the shipping industry must continue to adapt and evolve to meet the immediate challenges of the present and secure a more sustainable and resilient future for generations to come. This also comes with a consideration for the consumer’s greater curiosity as to the supply chain that brings you your goods and where possible trying to find alternatives with less of a cost to the environment.

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