LNG comes under attack from environmental group

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 28 January 2020


Following yesterday’s attack on new 2020-compliant VLSFO products for their potential to increase Black Carbon emissions, a new report from an environmental organisation says that LNG as marine fuel is revealed to be worse than business as usual for the climate.

The report from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) has found that the most popular Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) ship engine, particularly for cruise ships, emits between 70% and 82% more life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the short-term compared to clean distillate fuels. The report, “The climate implications of using LNG as a marine fuel”, comes as more ship operators are turning to LNG as a purported climate solution.


The ICCT report examines the lifecycle GHG emissions from marine fuels, including a previously poorly understood source of climate emissions from LNG-powered ships — the unintentional releases of what it describes as the climate super-pollutant methane from ship engines, known as methane slip. The authors 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.

“This groundbreaking new analysis is a damning climate indictment of LNG as marine fuel. For a sector that is already one of the largest contributors of global greenhouse gas emissions, this report reveals that switching ships to LNG is worse than doing nothing. This should serve as an alarming wake-up call for the IMO which must act now to ensure it includes all greenhouse gas emissions in its emissions reduction strategy,” said Kendra Ulrich, Senior Shipping Campaigner at environmentalist group Stand.earth.

“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,” said Dr. Elizabeth Lindstad, Chief Scientist at SINTEF Ocean, Maritime Transport.

Of the 756 LNG ships currently in use or on order, the most popular engine type, by far, is also the worst offender with the highest rate of methane slip. This engine is especially popular with cruise ships, and the cruise industry promotes these LNG ships as having significant climate benefits. As recently as December, the largest cruise operator in the world, Carnival Corporation, touted its LNG program as an example of its climate leadership in an announcement about joining the “Getting to Zero Coaliton.” This coalition aims to have zero-emission vessels in operation by 2030.

“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-fuelled 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 fueling 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,” said Ulrich.

The report was commissioned by international environmental organisation Stand.earth.

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