In shipping, keeping up means slowing down | WWF

In shipping, keeping up means slowing down

Posted on 30 September 2010    
Container port on the North Sea, Antwerp, Belgium.
Container port on the North Sea, Antwerp, Belgium.
© WWF / Michel GUNTHER
by Arild Iversen and Jim Leape

The good news on World Maritime Day is that there is a way to raise the environmental performance of the world’s shipping industry that does not require regulation, tax or law. It turns out that simply slowing ocean vessels down would be an easy way to make dramatic changes – quickly.

Going slow has already proven its efficacy as a cost measure in the face of rocketing fuel prices. Now, with public attention turning more and more to the impact of shipping on the environment, it is also the measure most likely to produce a speedy reduction in shipping emissions.

Historically, the most dramatic spikes in fuel costs have been provoked by disasters, political instability and supply shortages, but the long-term trend is still undeniably up. Since 1973, the price of bunker fuel for ocean vessels has increased by more than 2,500%, from $13 per tonne to around $455 per tonne.

Now, and in the future, fuel costs will rise for environmental reasons too. Just like trucks, cars, factories and other producers of emissions, shipping is under the microscope with scientists, politicians and the public – and not without good reason. International shipping presently accounts for 3% of global carbon emissions.

Regulatory action on this front is just beginning, and the real impact of the new environmental standards is yet to be felt. For example, starting in 2012, ships traveling within 200 nautical miles of US and Canadian coastlines will be required to use a cleaner, and more expensive, low-sulfur fuel. And when the fuel becomes even cleaner, as required by 2015 legislative mandate, fuel costs will jump yet again by a staggering 60%. Many other nations are also set to introduce comparable legislative requirements for cleaner fuels.

By 2015, most industry observers also expect a global carbon regulatory scheme to be in place, something that will likely be backed up by new market mechanisms and a host of other local and national regulations currently under consideration.

Despite the increasing cost associated with going greener, shipping will remain the most efficient way to trade goods, and slowing down guarantees a long-term strategy that is both cost effective and environmentally sustainable. For example, a ship steaming from Baltimore, USA to Bremerhaven, Germany at 19 knots (today’s standard speed) will use approximately 59 tons of fuel per day and emit 3,900 tonnes of CO2; by slowing down just slightly to 15 knots, that vessel would consume 37 percent less fuel per day, which would curtail its emissions by 20 percent for the voyage.

The power of this solution is its simplicity: no rules, regulations, or even research needed. The main obstacle is just a widely held perception of time: if we slow down, we get less done; if we speed up, we get more done. In reality, when it comes to intermodal trade, the case is often closer to “hurry up and wait.” A recent study carried out on behalf of a global auto manufacturer revealed that goods in transit spend 40% of their time waiting for the next connection – much like John Candy and Steve Martin in Trains, Planes and Automobiles.

Clearly, slowing vessels down would not mean slowing trade down too. By planning more precisely, goods and cargo could actually travel slower, yet arrive to consumers sooner, while reducing emissions, cost and port congestion at the same time. We appreciate that manufacturers have capital invested in cargo, and sitting cargo is sitting capital, but a better balance between sailing time and emissions can be reached.

On this World Maritime Day, we predict that zero-emission deep sea shipping, sailing at 10 knots, powered by renewable energy and supported by a high-efficiency supply chain structure, will be a reality by 2040. It’s a solution which is not only in the best interest of the shipping industry; it’s also better for manufacturers, and it’s best for the public. Slowing down requires no technological advances, no regulatory changes, only consensus and a meeting of the minds. A sustained speed reduction now will put the shipping industry firmly on track for a zero-emission future.

Arild B. Iversen is Chief Executive Officer of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, the world’s largest provider of Ro-Ro ocean transportation.
Jim Leape is Director General of WWF International


Container port on the North Sea, Antwerp, Belgium.
Container port on the North Sea, Antwerp, Belgium.
© WWF / Michel GUNTHER Enlarge

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