When it comes to planning shipping routes, most companies follow commercial interests rather than attempting energy-efficient and sustainable sea transport, according to a study published in Transportation Research. Researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, want to highlight the importance of opting for sustainable shipping.
Shipping accounts for about 90% of the world’s transport and represents 3% of total carbon dioxide emissions. As a way to limit the impact of climate change, the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) agreed that international shipping needs to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To achieve this goal, the IMO developed regulations to promote safer and energy-efficient shipping.
Despite this, after interviewing more than 100 officers and managers, researchers from the University of Gothenburg and three other Nordic universities show that this approach does not have the desired effect and highlight its limitations. “These limitations are slowing down climate work and maybe part of the reason why carbon emissions from shipping are continuing to rise,” explains Hanna Varvne, a doctoral student in business administration and one of the study’s authors.
Before starting a journey, officers need to make a series of decisions that may have an impact on energy efficiency. If they plan a route with the most favourable weather, optimise the use of engines and avoid delays before departure, they can minimise fuel consumption and the impact on the environment.
However, the team found out that these choices are often influenced by commercial needs, which prioritise economic factors over energy efficiency. “They may want to see high service speeds, frequent ferry services during the low season, or a longer route that avoids expensive canal charges, all of which increase fuel consumption,” continued Varvne.
According to the researchers, the problem is that the IMO regulation does not take into account those who prioritise commercial interests over energy efficiency, and this could make it virtually impossible to achieve the 2050 climate goal. “A classic example is the speed of the vessel. This is often regulated either in commercial contracts or via public procurement. These contracts take limited account of which speed would result in reduced emissions.”
To have any chance of achieving this goal, the team recommends that the IMO should focus more on commercial managers and other decision-makers that currently prioritise commercial goals over energy efficiency.
Above all, more cooperation is needed to achieve the climate goal. “There are a number of new agreements between cargo owners and shipping companies that aim to create more environmentally friendly transport chains. Unfortunately, there are also examples of other arrangements or collaborations that have not succeeded. So future research on the success factors for working together for sustainable shipping could really contribute to developing more successful projects that benefit both businesses and the environment.”, concluded Varvne.
Taudal Poulsen, René et al (2022). Energy efficiency in ship operations – Exploring voyage decisions and decisions-makers. Transportation Research Part D Transport and Environment, Doi: 10.1016/j.trd.2021.103120