IMO’s carbon strategy — a double-edged sword

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche
ShipInsight

11 May 2018


One of the biggest selling points for LNG as a marine fuel is that it can go a long way in silencing those that criticise shipping for being a major CO2 emitter and excluded from the COP21 Paris Agreement to reduce emissions.

However, in the wake of the MEPC 72 decarbonisation plan, some analysts are beginning to question if the future of LNG as a marine fuel is as rosy as some would like it to be. Without the MEPC 72 developments, the 2020 cap would undoubtedly have been a good enough reason for a large proportion of the world fleet to eventually move to burning gas.

This sentiment was expressed in the last issue of the ShipInsight Journal and has been voiced also by many industry observers ever since the 2020 date was decided. An accelerated take up of LNG would have assured the spread of bunkering facilities from the current few hot spots throughout the remainder of the globe.

Initially, a commitment by shipping to cut CO2 looks like a good thing for LNG but the if the targets set are impossible to meet for oil fuels so too are they for LNG within what will be quite a short time frame.

A week after MEPC 72 closed, SEA\LNG, the multi-sector industry coalition aiming to accelerate the adoption of LNG as a marine fuel, issued a statement supporting the level of ambition outlined by the IMO’s Initial Strategy and said it believes that the accelerated uptake of LNG as a marine fuel can play a significant role in the decarbonisation of the shipping sector while enabling it to comply with short-term regulatory demands of the IMO 2020 global sulphur cap.

According to the statement, LNG, in combination with efficiency measures being developed for new ships in response to the EEDI will provide a way of meeting the IMO’s decarbonisation target of a 40% decrease by 2030 for international shipping. Yet the statement also said that ‘through the use of best practices and appropriate technologies to minimise methane leakage, realistic reductions of GHG by 10-20% with a potential for up to 25% compared with conventional oil-based fuels can be expected’.

If SEA/LNG puts a GHG reduction potential of just 10-20% for LNG, that would undermine the more usually quoted 25-30% reduction in CO2. The difference is due of course to the effect of methane slip that all too often is ignored by proponents of LNG but cannot be ignored when talking in terms of GHG rather than CO2.

In the same way that many believe the new IMO policy will spell the end of oil fuels so, must it for LNG because the next target after the 40% by 2030 is 50% by 2050. LNG is considered as being a fuel for the future but if the 50% reduction target is impossible for LNG to achieve then how long the future will be becomes something that those looking to build the bunker infrastructure might find disturbing.

From today 2050 is still more than 30 years away and a lot can happen in that time. The IMO’s ambitious targets for GHG reduction and decarbonisation may yet be pushed back or possibly even abandoned. If they are not there is every possibility that an infrastructure that is only just being built could be obsolete within a little more than one generation of ships.