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UNCTAD mobilizes for shipping decarbonisation

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By Abraham Adekunle

Nigeria lags as agency readies $18bn on average to decarbonise ships by 2050.

According to the US Department of Energy, maritime decarbonisation is the process of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the global maritime sector, with an overall goal of placing the sector on a pathway that limits global temperature rise to 1.5-degrees Celsius. The maritime industry seems to be at the edge of a once-in-a-century energy transition as it looks for ways to decarbonise rapidly through electrification and low-carbon fuels, optimization tools, and efficiency technologies.

The United States government has committed to maritime emissions reduction which will require the resources and expertise of the numerous stakeholders working together. This is as many first-world countries are keying behind the net-zero carbon emission agenda in all areas, including on and in waters. Ports and ships need vast amounts of energy for cargo-handling equipment, ground transport, electricity generation, and vessel propulsion. Global emissions from all vessels account for about three percent of total GHG emissions each year. So, if the maritime industry was its own country, it would rank sixth on the list of largest GHG emitters globally. In comparison, the whole of Africa only accounts for four percent of all global carbon emissions.

Full decarbonisation requires massive investment.

However, Nigeria and other African countries may lag in achieving the 2050 shipping decarbonisation target set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), especially as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has announced that an additional $8 to $28 billion investment (with the midpoint at $18 billion) would be required yearly to decarbonise ships by 2050. The just-released UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport 2023 said that more substantial investments, ranging from $28 billion to $90 billion yearly, would be needed to develop infrastructure for 100 percent carbon-neutral fuels by 2050.

As such, UNCTAD, ahead of the global leaders’ preparation for the next UN climate conference (COP28), advocated for system-wide collaboration, swift regulatory intervention and stronger investments in green technologies and fleets. According to the report, full decarbonisation by 2050 will require massive investments and could lead to higher maritime logistics costs, thereby raising concerns for vulnerable shipping-reliant nations like Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The global report also stressed that full decarbonisation could elevate yearly fuel expenses by 70 percent to 100 percent, potentially affecting SIDS and least-developed countries (LDCs) that heavily rely on maritime transport.

Setback in investment due to non-implementation of policies.

Sadly, investment in maritime transport and decarbonisation in Nigeria and Africa has suffered a series of setbacks, due to the non-implementation of policies despite calls to address the issues. At a recent gathering in Lagos, the former Executive Secretary of the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) Commission, Florentina Adenike Ukonga, lamented that even though Nigeria and other African nations have domesticated the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Convention as a major component of their municipal laws, there is inadequate enforcement of policies to the global instrument to counter pollution on the waters.

She stated that maritime transportation in Nigeria and West and Central Africa is grossly underdeveloped as the majority of the ships providing services in the region are from Europe, Asia and the Far East. According to Ukonga, being a signatory to the convention is a first step in the right direction as this ensures the African environment is no longer perceived as a dumping ground for maritime toxic waste, garbage and other hazardous excretions from factories abroad. Also, the consul-general of the Netherlands in Nigeria, Michel Deelen, stressed the need to shield Nigeria and Africa from the destructive effects of pollution from ships and other ocean-going crafts. He said that Nigeria must be serious about putting in place structures to discourage ocean pollution from ships in its maritime space through existing laws and sanctions.

Aging fleet runs almost exclusively on fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, the UNCTAD report stated that the shipping sector, whose greenhouse gas emissions have risen to 20 percent over the last decade, operates an aging fleet that runs almost exclusively on fossil fuels. The report stated that nearly 99 percent of the global fleet is still reliant on conventional fuels with 21 percent of vessels on order designed for alternative fuels. UNCTAD further expressed concern over the aging global shipping fleet, noting that at the start of 2023, commercial ships were on average 22.2 years old, with more than half of the world’s fleet over 15 years old.

Related Link

US Department of Energy: Website

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