Making shipping more sustainable


Container ship at sundown

Global trade is on the increase, which means more cargo being transported by ship. This in turn is having serious environmental impacts. An international project involving KLU and funded by the Canadian government is helping change policy and thinking within the industry, thereby paving the way to more sustainable shipping practices.

As the population of the world expands and global trade grows with it, mounting pressure is being exerted upon the environment, also by maritime transport. It is estimated that more than two thirds in volume of global trade is being transported by ships and that maritime transport currently generates about three percent of the world’s CO2 emissions. Worryingly, without significant improvements in governance and innovation, a recent European Parliament study predicts that shipping could account for as much as 17 percent of global CO2 emissions by 2050.

But the environmental issues to be tackled are not limited to CO2 emissions, says Michele Acciaro, Professor of Maritime Logistics at KLU. They include ballast water management problems – in which aquatic micro-organisms can be spread from one region to another and marine environments damaged by ballast water discharge; shipping recycling methods in countries such as India; plastics in the ocean; and problems created for marine life by maritime transport like underwater noise and ships striking whales.

While much has been done in the past to make maritime transport greener – from the development of global conventions to industry initiatives which promote self-regulation and the dissemination of best practices and new technologies, “it still is not enough and issues of sustainability are becoming ever more urgent,” says Acciaro.


An international project for a global challenge

A multi-million dollar, six-year project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and aided by the expertise of Acciaro, however, is helping pave the way to greener and more sustainable maritime transport practices.  Led by the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Copenhagen Business School, the project Governance and Innovation for a Sustainable Maritime Supply Chain tackles environmental and climate challenges in the global maritime supply chain. The aim of the project is to facilitate greater awareness and understanding of environmental management challenges and best practices for producers, shippers, ship owners, customers, ports and local communities.

“Technological developments along certain pathways didn’t occur by chance,” Acciaro explains. “In the past, fossil fuels were cheap and abundant so development progressed in the direction of taking full advantage of their availability. Policies were based around economic growth and didn’t consider environmental capital. We are increasingly living in a world where our environmental capital is constrained. The conditions of the oceans, for example, are being increasingly compromised by means of plastic or warming of the water and, as it is known, there is only so much CO2 we can put into the atmosphere, before we start witnessing catastrophic consequences.”

“We understand the science behind the environmental issues, but more research into the social, economic and political issues needs to be done. How do we regulate the shipping industry and how do we change the thinking and behaviour of people?”

He says that a common question asked within the industry is: “Why should maritime shipping be more regulated than other industries?” It is a question all industries ask themselves, however. What is needed, he points out, is “an agreement and convention led by the International Maritime Organisation that is binding for shipping and involves a greater integration of how sustainable practices can benefit the industry.”

It is a long road to reach such an agreement, particularly when you consider developing countries, where sustainable practices have often lower priorities than in countries with robust economies. But convincing people of the benefits of initiatives such as a fuel tax for shipping or an emission-trading scheme would be a step in the right direction, he says.


Research on greener ports

In order to achieve its objectives, the SSHRC has invested more than two million Canadian dollars into the research-driven project, which has just entered its second year and involves a large number of partners from around the world. Acciaro leads the stream of research related to green ports. It is one of five pillars of the project together with trade, value chains, business models, and stakeholders. Currently at UBC in Vancouver for three months, Acciaro explains his role on the project is to coordinate the research efforts of multiple people from several countries.

One of the fundamental ideas of the project is to explore best practices and the practicality of their implementation. Acciaro gives the example of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California, which have pledged to be emissions-free by 2035. To achieve this end, the ports have introduced a series of initiatives from electrifying port vehicles to requiring ships coming into port to change to cleaner fuels. “L.A. and Long Beach are the most important ports in California, so they have negotiating power with shipping firms,” Acciaro points out. “If Hamburg, for example, were to introduce the same restrictions with regards to emissions, it could mean that ships would go elsewhere.”

Given what is at stake, there is little doubt that the project is of huge importance. “Sustainable shipping is one of the big challenges the world faces,” Acciaro explains. “And the involvement of the Canadian government and UBC is a very important signal to the international community that this is a very significant research issue that needs to be addressed.”