Could constant criticism end the environmental cause?

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 30 January 2020


Shipping it seems can do nothing right. Just days after the attack on new ‘Frankenstein fuels’ – or 2020 compliant fuels as the suppliers would prefer them to be labelled – comes a new criticism of one of the alternatives that has been heavily promoted both within the industry and in some gases from outside.

According to yet another new report, LNG is now the problem fuel and despite its ‘clean’ label it would seem that if used in some engine types it emits between 70% and 82% more life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the short-term compared to distillate fuels. The report by International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) found that using LNG could actually worsen the shipping industry’s climate impacts compared to MGO when considering the amount of heat these emissions will trap over a 20-year period.


The press release announcing the report does not name the engine type(s) involved but the report itself does. LNG it seems is only more environmentally friendly if used in a steam turbine, a gas turbine or a high pressure dual-fuel engine. Anything else it seems is a big problem for the environment and not the halfway step towards decarbonisation that it has been promoted as.

While it is intended to grab headlines in the run up to the PPR 7 sub-committee meeting the IMO will be holding later this month, the report probably actually says nothing very new. It has been accepted wisdom within the industry for well over a decade that the high-pressure Diesel cycle engine does not suffer so much from methane slip as the more popular Otto cycle engines do.

Of the low-pressure dual-fuel engines, two-strokes are said to be less polluting whereas the four-stroke medium-speed engine is the real bad boy. The relatively few spark-ignited gas engines are second on the list of offenders.

The ICCT release accompanying the report quotes another environmental organisation Stand.Earth which is highly critical of the cruise industry and which appears to have singled out Carnival in particular. Kendra Ulrich, Senior Shipping Campaigner at is quoted as saying “Carnival Corporation’s program to increase the number of LNG ships in its global fleet is like jumping out of the oil pot and into the climate-fueled fire. While most of Carnival’s global fleet still burns one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on earth — heavy fuel oil — LNG is far from a solution to its massive climate pollution problem. We urge Carnival to stop fuelling its ships with oil refinery waste and end its investments in climate-disrupting LNG ships. If Carnival wants to be an environmental leader, it must switch to the cleanest fuel available — marine gas oil — and put its investment dollars toward truly zero-emissions technologies”.

While the report may have some valid points and its central message is given credence by respected scientific voices such as Dr. Elizabeth Lindstad, Chief Scientist at SINTEF Ocean, Maritime Transport who is quoted as saying, “The report shows the need for adopting policies that can reduce the broader GHG emissions of shipping instead of CO2 only, including the well-to-tank emissions of ship fuels. If we fail to include all GHGs and focus only on CO2, we might end up with a large number of ships fulfilling all efficiency requirements, but where the GHG savings are on paper only”.

Seeing both new compliant fuels and LNG coming under attack by environmental groups and their previous condemnation of scrubbers as moving pollution from air to sea – something denied and discounted by some researchers – it is difficult for anyone to understand what fuel if any environmental groups do see as acceptable.

The latest reports both mention MGO as being the cleanest choice to meet 2020 requirements but distillates have previously been a minority choice for the shipping industry with other users – road, rail, power and industry – consuming far more than shipping does. For shipping to switch entirely to distillates would require a doubling of crude oil use at least and all that entails. That too would probably not go down well with environmental groups.

Ironically there is a very high chance that continued attacks of this nature may well have the opposite effect of what would seem to be intended. Rather than restricting or banning any particular fuel or shipping activity in general it may well just persuade national delegations to the IMO to vote for business as usual and forget any future environmental progress.

It should not be forgotten that the IMO is not an all powerful body but one which has to bow to the majority view of sovereign nation states. The damned if you do or damned if you don’t position member states are being forced into could well see many of them decide that membership of the IMO does not serve their countries or populations well and that they would be better if out of it.

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