Shipping speed limits could cut emissions in the short term

shipping speed limits
© iStock/boryak

More than 100 shipping companies have signed a letter supporting the enforcement of shipping speed limits as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Under targets set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the international shipping industry must reduce its emissions by 50 per cent by 2050. A European Commission-funded study published last week found that setting operational speed limits at 20 per cent lower than the 2012 average would cut emissions by between 24 and 34 per cent by 2030, compared to projected 2030 emissions levels without the imposition of speed limits.

The letter, signed by 117 shipping companies and nine environmental groups, says: “Recent history shows that reducing the global fleet’s operational speed after the 2008 economic crash led to dramatic reductions in GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions. This speaks to the real-world effectiveness of a potential prescriptive speed measure in helping achieve reduction targets. However, recent studies also suggest that ships are speeding up again as global demand recovers. Should this trend continue, any GHG gains from slow steaming over recent years will disappear.”

Critics of speed limits as a solution to maritime emissions claim imposing shipping speed limits would act as a “Band-Aid” or “sleeping pill”, providing an illusion of taking action while failing to promote innovation and development of greater carbon reduction programmes. Advocates of the scheme, however, argue that any steps towards emissions reduction constitute a net positive; and that the global climate crisis necessitates immediate action as well as long term research.

The letter concludes: “The signatories to this letter unite in stressing the urgent need for shipping to make its appropriate contribution to addressing climate change. As the initial step we express our strong support for the IMO implementing mandatory regulation of global ship speeds differentiated across ship type and size categories. Our preference would be to set maximum annual average speeds for container ships, and maximum absolute speeds for the remaining ship types, which take account of minimum speed requirements. Such a regulation should be implemented as soon as possible and the obligation for compliance should be placed both on shipowners and operators, including charterers.”


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