Welcome to a land of confusion

Paul Gunton

Paul Gunton · 21 February 2020


If a person’s taste in music offers a window into their world, what are we to make of Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO of DNV GL Maritime?

He hosted a gathering in London this week (18 February) and used some lyrics from his youth to set the scene. They were from Land of confusion, by Genesis, which came out in 1986 when Knut was 22 years old.

 Can’t you see this is a land of confusion?
 Well this is the world we live in
 And these are the hands we’re given
 Use them and let’s start trying
 To make it a place worth living in

He used the same device at the equivalent event last year. That time he chose Sting’s Forget about the future, which came out in 2003 and Knut was a more mature 39.

 They said we’d better check the weather chart
 Before we tie our colours to this mast
 It’s just too hard thinking about the future baby
 So let’s just get on with the past

A year ago, then, he found the future was too hard to think about. Now that we’ve got there, it’s apparently still all very confusing.

‘Faster’ is better than ‘better’, says Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen (image: ShipInsight)

I don’t have enough space here to go into all the confusing things he mentioned, but they came under the general headings of unpredictable markets, stricter regulations and rapid advances in technology; three ‘tectonic shifts’, he called them, and he recalled that he had used that analogy last year, too.

Tectonic plates move very slowly and Knut urged us to take a long-term view on global shipping emissions and he defended LNG as a carbon-reducing fuel, saying that it gives a 15-20% reduction of CO2 compared with HFO.

He criticised a report published last month by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) that claimed its use would emit between 70% and 82% more life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the short-term compared to clean distillate fuels, saying that it did not take account of reductions that have been achieved in methane slip and because it took too-short a timeframe.

I won’t attempt to go into Knut’s complete argument – I was not the only attendee who felt we had indeed moved to the land of confusion – but he said that LNG will be a relevant fuel source for the next two generations of ships and urged us to take a 100-year view on its global warming potential, as the UNFCCC does.

DNV GL Graph factors contributing to meeting IM Os 2050 goal
Fuel developments will be needed to fill the grey area and meet IMO’s 2050 goal (image: DNV GL)

Two generations ships takes us beyond IMO’s 2050 target of reducing the industry’s GHG emissions by at least 50% so I asked him whether he doubted that that was an achievable goal. “It’s a challenging one,” he said, and referred to a graph showing the contributions that various parameters can make towards achieving that reduction.

Logistics, energy efficiency measures and speed reductions will contribute a lot towards that but the largest single contribution must come from changes in fuel use, shown in grey on the graph. Using LNG will contribute towards that reduction, but that will not be enough on its own and, at present, “we are missing a large part of this grey area” and there is no obvious solution to that. “We will need some other less-carbon-intensive fuels and we are saying that research and development is really key” to establishing what the fuel will be. If potential alternatives had already been tested “we would be very confident of meeting it, but that is still work to be done,” he said.

And there is no point in sitting around while this future fuel is developed, he said. “I can guarantee that that will not help us reduce the risk of climate change [and] it will not help us meet the IMO target.”

The choice then is this: support a fuel – LNG – that can reduce carbon emissions to some extent now, or hope for something more effective to emerge. “In this context ‘faster’ is really better than ‘better’,” he said.

Does this chime with last year’s ‘forget about the future’ theme, or does it take us further into this year’s ‘land of confusion’? If it’s the latter, then Knut could hum another melody from the past: Classical Gas, by Mason Williams, which came out when Knut was just four.

• Is Knut right not to wait for a better fuel to come along? Email me with your thoughts now.

• For what it’s worth, if I had to choose a song that sums up my approach to life, it would be James Taylor’s The secret of life:

 The secret of life
 Is enjoying the passage of time
 Any fool can do it
 There ain’t nothing to it.

I commend it to you.

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