Bold glo­bal action nee­ded to decar­bo­ni­ze ship­ping and ensu­re a just tran­si­ti­on: UNC­TAD report

The Review of Maritime Transport 2023 urges swift action and system-wide collaboration to decarbonize maritime transport amid growing carbon emissions and regulatory uncertainty.

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UNC­TAD has cal­led for a „just and equi­ta­ble tran­si­ti­on“ to a decar­bo­ni­zed ship­ping indus­try in its Review of Mari­ti­me Trans­port 2023 laun­ched ahead of World Mari­ti­me Day (28 September).

The agen­cy high­lights the pres­sing need for clea­ner fuels, digi­tal solu­ti­ons and an equi­ta­ble tran­si­ti­on to com­bat con­tin­ued car­bon emis­si­ons and regu­la­to­ry uncer­tain­ty in the ship­ping industry.

The ship­ping indus­try accounts for over 80% of the world’s trade volu­me and near­ly 3% of glo­bal green­house gas emis­si­ons, with emis­si­ons escala­ting by 20% in just a decade.

UNC­TAD Secretary-General Rebe­ca Gryn­span said: „Mari­ti­me trans­port needs to decar­bo­ni­ze as soon as pos­si­ble, while ensu­ring eco­no­mic growth. Balan­cing envi­ron­men­tal sus­taina­bi­li­ty, regu­la­to­ry com­pli­ance and eco­no­mic demands is vital for a pro­spe­rous, equi­ta­ble and resi­li­ent future for mari­ti­me transport.“

A push for clea­ner fuels

UNC­TAD, ahead of the United Nati­ons cli­ma­te con­fe­rence (COP28) in Novem­ber of this year, advo­ca­tes for a shift towards clea­ner fuels in ship­ping, empha­si­zing the need for an envi­ron­men­tal­ly effec­ti­ve, pro­ce­du­ral­ly fair, soci­al­ly just, tech­no­lo­gi­cal­ly inclu­si­ve and glo­bal­ly equi­ta­ble tran­si­ti­on strategy.

The orga­niza­ti­on unders­cores the importance of system-wide col­la­bo­ra­ti­on, swift regu­la­to­ry inter­ven­ti­ons, and robust invest­ments in green tech­no­lo­gies and fleets.

While the tran­si­ti­on to clea­ner fuels is in its ear­ly stages, with near­ly 99% of the glo­bal fleet still reli­ant on con­ven­tio­nal fuels, the report cites pro­mi­sing deve­lo­p­ments, inclu­ding 21% of ves­sels on order desi­gned for alter­na­ti­ve fuels.

Decar­bo­niza­ti­on cos­ts mount

Howe­ver, the tran­si­ti­on comes with sub­stan­ti­al cos­ts. UNC­TAD reports that an addi­tio­nal $8 bil­li­on to $28 bil­li­on will be requi­red annu­al­ly to decar­bo­ni­ze ships by 2050, and even more sub­stan­ti­al invest­ments, ran­ging from $28 bil­li­on to $90 bil­li­on annu­al­ly, will be nee­ded to deve­lop infra­struc­tu­re for 100% carbon-neutral fuels by 2050.

Full decar­bo­niza­ti­on could ele­va­te annu­al fuel expen­ses by 70% to 100%, poten­ti­al­ly affec­ting small island deve­lo­ping sta­tes (SIDS) and least deve­lo­ped count­ries (LDCs) that hea­vi­ly rely on mari­ti­me transport.

To ensu­re an equi­ta­ble tran­si­ti­on, UNC­TAD calls for a uni­ver­sal regu­la­to­ry frame­work appli­ca­ble to all ships, irre­spec­ti­ve of their regis­tra­ti­on flags, owner­ship or ope­ra­tio­nal are­as, ther­eby avo­i­ding a two-speed decar­bo­niza­ti­on pro­cess and main­tai­ning a level play­ing field.

Shami­ka N. Siri­man­ne, UNCTAD’s direc­tor of tech­no­lo­gy and logi­stics, said: „Eco­no­mic incen­ti­ves, such as levies or con­tri­bu­ti­ons paid in rela­ti­on to ship­ping emis­si­ons may incen­ti­vi­ze action, can pro­mo­te the com­pe­ti­ti­ve­ness of alter­na­ti­ve fuels and nar­row the cost gap with con­ven­tio­nal hea­vy fuels.“

„The­se funds could also faci­li­ta­te invest­ments in ports in SIDS and LDCs, focu­sing on cli­ma­te chan­ge adapt­a­ti­on, trade and trans­port reforms, as well as digi­tal con­nec­ti­vi­ty,“ Ms. Siri­man­ne added.

An age­ing glo­bal fleet

UNC­TAD fur­ther expres­ses con­cern over the age­ing glo­bal ship­ping fleet – at the start of 2023, com­mer­cial ships were on avera­ge 22.2 years old, two years older than a deca­de ago. More than half of the world’s fleet is over 15 years old.

Ship owners face the chall­enge of rene­wing the fleet wit­hout cla­ri­ty regar­ding alter­na­ti­ve fuels, green tech­no­lo­gy and regu­la­to­ry regimes to gui­de ship owners and ports, while port ter­mi­nals face simi­lar chal­lenges in vital invest­ment decisions.

Digi­ta­liza­ti­on for decarbonization

In addi­ti­on to clea­ner fuels, UNC­TAD unders­cores the role of digi­ta­liza­ti­on in acce­le­ra­ting decar­bo­niza­ti­on efforts, citing the bene­fits in enhan­cing effi­ci­en­cy and redu­cing delays.

„Inves­t­ing in digi­ta­liza­ti­on and tech­no­lo­gy will impro­ve pre­dic­ta­bi­li­ty and relia­bi­li­ty of ship­ping, and app­ly­ing tech­no­lo­gies such as AI, machi­ne lear­ning, block­chain and the inter­net of things will result in per­for­mance opti­miza­ti­on for moni­to­ring, rou­ting, speed and pre­dic­ti­ve main­ten­an­ce – which can all help acce­le­ra­te decar­bo­niza­ti­on,“ Ms. Siri­man­ne said.

Shif­ting glo­bal trade

The Review of Mari­ti­me Trans­port ana­ly­ses the shif­ting glo­bal trade pat­terns and the impact of events like the war in Ukrai­ne, high­light­ing the resi­li­ence of the ship­ping indus­try while ack­now­led­ging the chal­lenges of balan­cing sup­p­ly and demand.

Dri­ven by dis­rup­ti­ons from the war in Ukrai­ne, oil car­go distances rea­ched an all-time high in 2022, and ship­ments of grain in 2023 have tra­vel­led fur­ther than in any year on record, as grain import­ing count­ries have been forced to seek alter­na­ti­ve export­ers such as the US and Bra­zil, which requi­re long-haul shipping.

Glo­bal ship­ping indus­try remains resilient

Despi­te a 0.4% con­trac­tion in total mari­ti­me trade volu­mes in 2022, the indus­try anti­ci­pa­tes a 2.4% growth in 2023, with con­tai­ne­ri­zed trade (which decli­ned by 3.7% in 2022) expec­ted to expand by 1.2% in 2023 and more than 3% bet­ween 2024 and 2028.

Oil and gas trade volu­mes show­ed robust growth in 2022, while tan­ker freight rates saw a strong revi­val dri­ven by geo­po­li­ti­cal events. Dry bulk rates expe­ri­en­ced vola­ti­li­ty due to shif­ting demand, port con­ges­ti­on, geo­po­li­ti­cal ten­si­ons and wea­ther disruptions.

See the main mari­ti­me trans­port facts and figu­res for Afri­caAsia, and Latin Ame­ri­ca and the Carib­be­an.

In con­clu­si­on, UNCTAD’s call for a just and equi­ta­ble tran­si­ti­on to a low- and zero-carbon future in glo­bal ship­ping ser­ves as a call for system-wide com­mit­ment and regu­la­to­ry action to com­bat the escala­ting envi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges faced by the mari­ti­me sec­tor. Bold and time­ly action and col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve efforts are essen­ti­al to ensu­re a sus­tainable, resi­li­ent and pro­spe­rous future for mari­ti­me transport.


Quel­le & Kontakt:

UNCTAD- Palais des Nati­ons, 8–14, Av. de la Paix, 1211 Gen­e­va 10, Switzerland


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