The international shipping industry should follow the aviation’s sector switch to biofuels and step up its use of sustainable fuels, according to a new report released by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and University Maritime Advisory Services (UMAS) on 7 July.

Transporting around 90% of world trade, the international maritime sector emits more CO₂ than all but five countries. Without urgent climate change, the report said these emissions were set to at least double by 2050.

The global community had committed within the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 50% by 2050.

To meet this target, the sector needed to switch from fossil fuels to alternative fuels and previous studies had shown that zero emission vessels needed to enter the fleet at scale from as early as 2030.

The report looked at how sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) or Eligible Fuels elements of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO’s) market-based climate programme could be adopted by the shipping industry.

Offering a blueprint for the shipping sector, the report also identified areas where the IMO should be more ambitious than (ICAO) to ensure that shipping moves away from fossil fuels.

“The International Maritime Organization and the shipping industry need to put in place the right rules for alternative fuels to truly drive the decarbonisation of the sector and it does not need to start from scratch,” said EDF director Aoife O‘Leary.

“The rules recently adopted by ICAO offer valuable lessons and a good starting place for the IMO to chart its course toward a genuinely sustainable shipping sector.”

Key recommendations in the report included the shipping industry’s adoption of a full life-cycle perspective when accounting for all GHG emissions and the application of stringent rules to ensure that the use of biofuels had a real climate benefit.

“Shipping, as aviation, should ensure that all the emissions from a fuel – from the production to the distribution to the combustion itself – are accounted for it we are to understand the real climate impact,” said Dr Nishatabbas Rehmatulla, senior researcher, UCL and principal consultant, UMAS.

The authors called on the IMO to adopt strict rules on transparency to ensure that shipping companies accurately reported their emissions and didn’t double count emission reductions. They also called for the adequate allocation of resources and to draw on the experiences of the ICAO, where appropriate, to get these rules right.

An international non-profit organisation, the EDF creates solutions to environmental problems. UMAS undertakes research for a wide range of clients. In the shipping sector, it uses big data to understand drivers of shipping energy demand and emissions and uses models to explore shipping’s transition to a low or zero-carbon future.