Supply Chain Is Not Only Stressor On Shipping; Climate Change And Decarbonization Also Pose Challenges

While the backlogs at shipping ports have grabbed shipping headlines in the past few months, the pandemic and its related challenges are just one of the major issues facing the shipping industry. As ocean temperatures continue to warm, extreme weather caused by climate change is becoming a top challenge for shipping industry executives — from responding to global policy emission requirements to the realities of managing effective routes for both time and fuel savings. 

The shipping industry is among the leading global producers of carbon emission, with the 15 largest ships in the world produce more sulfur each year than all cars put together. In 2020 the International Maritime Organization introduced new regulations to combat the impact of sulfur emissions by enacting a worldwide 0.5 percent sulfur emission cap and new regulation in 2023 further targets reducing carbon intensity. New equipment and alternative fuels will aid in this directive, but those investments will be longer-term strategies. For example, Maersk, the largest container shipping company in the world, announced last year it will launch a new, carbon-neutral vessel in the next few years in an effort  to reduce its environmental footprint.

A new shipping and digitalization report sponsored by DTN* confirms that decarbonization is at the top of the list of industry pressures. While most of the respondents said the top industry pressure was decarbonization, more than half said non-regulatory requirements, such as greenhouse initiatives, were as much of a priority as decarbonization regulations.

While redesigning vessels and looking at fuel alternatives are options, there are immediate actions that the shipping industry can take to help reduce emissions. Studies show that weather-optimized routing can reduce emissions up to 4 percent and reduce fuel consumption up to 10 percent, depending on the type of vessel, the season, and the conditions. Route-planning is established prior to voyage but is an ongoing dynamic process. If there is bad weather ahead, sophisticated algorithms that utilize information about the ship and its capabilities and the weather effects on that specific ship can make numerous calculations and provide one or more alternatives for the mariner to optimize a route.

To further aid in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to alleviate shipping congestion, several maritime agencies are exploring the “Just in Time” concept. The idea is that a ship maintains the optimal operating speed to arrive at port only when the availability is ensured. Weather insights and oceanic data will play an important factor on how to avoid impactful weather and currents – and arrive on time.

A point that I found especially interesting in the study was the respondents’ perceptions about the impact of climate change on the shipping industry. Weather has always been a significant factor in the maritime industry weather – rain or shine – but according to the survey three-quarters of the respondents don’t believe climate change is impacting the industry. 

This may be due to gradual changes, like increasing sea surface temperatures and rising sea levels, that may not be felt immediately. However, these changes are catalysts for the most widely known and accepted conditions that directly impact shipping such as stronger winds, increased wave heights and wave periods. The warmer sea surface temperatures have also contributed to earlier and more frequent hurricanes and stronger typhoons which affect shipping routes across the world.

The shipping industry transports more than 90% of the world’s goods and every one of them contends with weather as constant variable on the voyages. By using weather data for operational intelligence, in addition to weather awareness, the industry can address other challenges, such as decarbonization, to improve efficiency and the environment.

*Author works for DTN

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