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Decarbonization of maritime transport: how-to

ITF highlights the case of Sweden in successfully reducing carbon footprint
Edition of March 26, 2018

Sweden has become an example to follow in the light of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Initial Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Strategy. The European country’s policies to reduce maritime GHG emissions, has made the Swedish shipping industry a global pioneer in low-carbon shipping. The International Transport Forum (ITF) case- specific policy analysis report “Decarbonizing Maritime Transport: The Case of Sweden”, sheds a light on how to achieve the zero-emissions goal using several strategies, each one suitable for different types of vessels and their specific needs.

MundoMaritimo had exclusive access to the document that specifies the proactive measures taken by the Swedish industry. “The country now counts a number of innovative Green vessels projects. Stena Line runs a ferry on methanol; Sirius Shipping has developed a ship-to-ship LNG bunkering vessel; numerous Swedish shipping companies - such as Terntank, Erik Thun and Rederi Gotland – have pioneered services with LNG-propelled vessels; and both HH Ferries and Green City Ferries have introduced electric ships,” are some of the examples named in the report.

Green, green, green

This pro-active approach in Sweden is driven by an effective partnership of responsible shipping companies and shippers. The interest of Swedish ship-owners in sustainability and innovation has been encouraged by large Swedish shippers, resulting in partnerships between shippers and liners, overcoming barriers that have traditionally hampered progress in greening shipping. In particular the willingness of certain shippers to commit to long-term charter contracts with the new low-carbon ships seems to have been a main determining factor.

Green vessel projects have positioned Sweden among the first countries with substantial uptake of LNG powered ships, ship-to-ship LNG bunkering ships, electric ships and methanol-powered ships. Main emission impacts of the LNG-powered vessels relate to local air pollutions, with emission reductions recorded of 83-96% for SO2, 79-91% for NOx and 80-84% for PM. Observed emission reductions in CO2 equivalents are in the order of 23-24% (Zero Vision Tool, Pilot LNG Activity 7 Report). Sweden is also one of the first countries with electric ships. One of these is the ferry connection between Stockholm and Movitz, operated by Green City Ferries. This project not only consisted in converting vessels into fully electric vessels, but also providing the charging infrastructure in the two ports. These ships have come into operation only very recently, so it is too early to assess their effectiveness. Other Swedish ship-owners, such as Stena, are also working on electric vessels, in particular for ferries over relatively small distances. Stena Line is the first shipping company to have used methanol as ship fuel. They converted the Stena Germanica, a large passenger and car ferry vessel operating between Gothenburg and Kiel (Germany), into a methanol-powered vessel with fuel supplied by Methanex, the largest methanol producer in the world.

Another innovation by Swedish industries has been providing green logistics solutions, such as the triangular routes of many freight trains, to avoid the traditional empty backhaul problem. Green public policy innovations have made Sweden the only country –so far- with environmentally differentiated fairway dues. This means that cleaner ships pay relatively lower fairway dues, whereas less clean ships pay relatively higher fairway dues, a system that has been in place since 1998.

The importance of teamwork

The document also highlights that Sweden’s progress can be explained by team efforts: stakeholder cooperation, some financial support and regulation. An exemplary case of stakeholder cooperation has been the “Zero Vision Tool”, a platform for cooperation between shipping industry, government and the research community, to solve bottlenecks to greening maritime transport via specific pilot projects. Other examples are financial instruments, like EU assistance and the Norwegian NOx Fund, that have helped ship-owners to invest in expensive but lower-carbon ships. Stricter regulations on sulphur emissions, such as the requirements in emission control areas (ECA), have further stimulated the demand for LNG propelled ships that reduce sulphur emissions and – to a certain extent – carbon emissions.

Despite much progress, even in Sweden the decarbonization of maritime transport is still at an early stage. More is needed if the sector wants to achieve its goal of zero-carbon shipping by 2050. The major challenge is how to upscale current initiatives and obtain more finance and policy support, both nationally and globally.

By MundoMaritimo


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