Climate advocates are praising shipping behemoth Maersk’s accelerated pledge to achieve net-zero by 2040 as “an industry-leading commitment.” But government policies are lagging in the meantime, as exemptions to the European Union’s new carbon pricing scheme for shipping stand to leave millions of tonnes of CO2 unregulated.
Maersk uses about 12 million tons of marine oil per year and is one of the world’s largest oil consumers. The company is shifting its carbon neutrality target to 2040, forward 10 years from 2050, and will now also cover Scope 2 and 3 emissions. The company plans to reach its targets by introducing a new range of green products, converting its fleet to run on lower-emitting fuels like methanol and ammonia, and investing in natural climate solutions, reports Bloomberg Green.
The plan includes a commitment to greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, writes Stand.earth, a move that would produce absolute emission reductions of 25 to 50% this decade. However, Stand points out that Maersk’s 2030 goal also relies on offsets.
A shift to green alternative fuels is an important element of the plan. In June, Maersk unveiled the world’s first methanol-powered shipping vessel. But experts say reduction plans using alternative fuels like methanol still need to account for where the carbon in the fuel itself comes from, reports Ship Technology.
“Is it from some sort of plant-based material, is it some waste-based material from animals, or manure, or is it from the air, is it direct air capture?” asked Bryan Comer, marine program lead at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). “Even if you know the answer to those questions, not all bio-sources are created equal. Some are driving deforestation and others aren’t, the ones that aren’t are very expensive.”
Currently, green fuels cost roughly twice as much as conventional ones. “But Maersk’s customers are to a high degree willing to shoulder the increased price,” Maersk’s Chief Executive of Fleet and Strategic Brands Henriette Hallberg Thygesen told Reuters. “The increase in cost per product is still relatively insignificant,” she said.
The Ship It Zero coalition of climate advocates and shipping experts are urging the world’s largest companies to achieve zero emissions by 2030. They say Maersk’s aggressive target “proves that major cargo customers like Amazon, Target, Walmart, and IKEA can also aim higher to both set and meet clean shipping goals this decade.” Both Amazon and IKEA already do business with Maersk, and have pledged to stop moving their products on fossil-fuel powered ships by 2040.
The shipping sector is under growing scrutiny to become cleaner, Reuters says, with about 90% of world trade transported by sea and accounting for nearly 3% of global CO2 emissions. Maritime trade is also projected to grow by up to 130% by 2050.
“Put simply: the world cannot stop the climate crisis without urgent action to decarbonize international shipping this decade,” Stand writes.
That imperative makes targets like Maersk’s critical for fulfilling global climate goals, but also casts a harsh light on the shortcomings in the EU’s new shipping laws.
Loopholes exclude vessels under 5,000 gross tonnage, effectively exempting military, fishing, and offshore oil and gas service vessels. The exemption was intended to reduce administrative burdens, though some experts say a better approach would be to create exemptions based on emissions volume. With the technicality in place, “just over half of Europe’s ships are exempt from the proposal, despite them accounting for nearly 20% of the EU’s shipping emissions,” or about 25.l8 million tonnes of CO2 per year, reports Transport & Environment.