A report from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) claimed that the LNG fuelled ships engines, particularly in cruise ships, emit between 70% and 82% more life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the short-term compared to clean distillate fuels.
The report, ‘The climate implications of using LNG as a marine fuel’, comes as more ship operators are turning to LNG, especially cruise ship operators, as a perceived climate solution.
ICCT examined the lifecycle GHG emissions from marine fuels, including a previously poorly understood source of climate emissions from LNG-powered ships — the unintentional releases of the climate super-pollutant methane from ship engines, known as methane slip.
The authors found that using LNG could actually worsen the shipping industry’s climate impacts, compared to marine gas oil (MGO) when considering the amount of heat these emissions will trap over a 20-year period.
“This groundbreaking new analysis is a damning climate indictment of LNG as marine fuel. For a sector that is already one of the largest contributors of global greenhouse gas emissions, this report reveals that switching ships to LNG is worse than doing nothing.
“This should serve as an alarming wake-up call for the IMO, which must act now to ensure it includes all greenhouse gas emissions in its emissions reduction strategy,” warned Kendra Ulrich, Senior Shipping Campaigner at Stand.earth.
If left unchecked in a business-as-usual scenario, international shipping GHG emissions could rise from its current 3% share of emissions to 17% of global GHG emissions by 2050. If ships were to continue to uptake LNG as a marine fuel, emissions could be even worse, it was claimed.
“The report shows the need for adopting policies that can reduce the broader GHG emissions of shipping instead of CO2 only, including the well-to-tank emissions of ship fuels. If we fail to include all GHGs and focus only on CO2, we might end up with a large number of ships fulfilling all efficiency requirements, but where the GHG savings are on paper only,” said Dr Elizabeth Lindstad, Chief Scientist at SINTEF Ocean, Maritime Transport.
The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that global GHG emissions must be almost halved from 2017 levels by 2030 to avert the worst impacts of climate change, and methane emissions from all sources must be cut by at least 35% from 2010 levels by 2050.
Given this short timeframe to drastically reduce climate-disrupting pollution, the report’s authors evaluated the climate impacts of marine fuels using 20-year and 100-year global warming potentials. Methane emissions are particularly problematic because methane traps 86 times more heat than the same amount of carbon over a 20-year period.
An LNG fuelled engine is especially popular with cruise ships, and the cruise industry promotes the use of LNG as having significant climate benefits. As recently as December, the world’s largest cruise operator, Carnival Corp, lauded its LNG programme as an example of its climate leadership in an announcement about joining the ‘Getting to Zero Coaliton.’ This coalition aims to have zero-emission vessels in operation by 2030.
“Carnival Corporation’s programme to increase the number of LNG ships in its global fleet is like jumping out of the oil pot and into the climate-fuelled fire. While most of Carnival’s global fleet still burns one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on earth — heavy fuel oil — LNG is far from a solution to its massive climate pollution problem.
“We urge Carnival to stop fuelling its ships with oil refinery waste and end its investments in climate-disrupting LNG ships. If Carnival wants to be an environmental leader, it must switch to the cleanest fuel available — marine gas oil — and put its investment dollars toward truly zero-emissions technologies,” Ulrich added.
The IMO’s Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) sub-committee meets between 17th and 21st February in London, in what is being dubbed by the international community as an Arctic summit. The PPR sub-committee will be asked to send strong recommendations to its parent committee, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), on urgent control measures for black carbon in the Arctic and other marine ecosystems.
Also on its agenda are banning the use, and carriage for use, of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic, and closing a loophole that allows for the continued use of heavy fuel oil under more stringent fuel sulfur standards if ships install ‘emissions-cheat’ systems called scrubbers.
MEPC meets between 30th March and 3rd April, where, after two years of stalling and delays, its top priority will be its greenhouse gas reduction strategy and agreeing to short-term measures to begin reducing emissions.