Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ecologists Target UK Freight Industry After Shipping Pollution Report

Is Unilateral Action Necessary to Combat Emissions?
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – The ecological press this week are full of selective details from a report released by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in conjunction with the Sustainable Consumption Institute based in the University of Manchester claiming ‘UK shipping emissions are six times higher than expected’. Unfortunately it seems such publications are intent on sensational headlines rather than accurate reporting, with UK shippers and forwarders being blamed for a disproportionate amount of pollution rather than a balanced analysis of the report.

In fact the report actually centres on the potential for the UK to enforce unilateral reduction in shipping emissions and concedes that this might well lead other EU countries to see this as an opportunity to take up the slack by not reducing their own pollution levels. It also concedes that currently, as so often when dealing with statistics, the method used to calculate the UK’s contribution to harmful emissions is the deciding factor as to the level as a percentage of a world total, which again the authors agree, differs wildly, dependent upon whose figures one uses.

The points made by the report as to the responsibility for emissions are both fair and valid. Global trade is the driving force and the report suggests that exporters and importers, because of their need to ship cargo, are principally responsible for the quantity of CO2 etc. produced; a fairly obvious conclusion. It then goes on to state that the factors involved in calculating appropriate responsibility is contained in data, tonnages, type of cargo, distances for each consignment travelled and by which methods, are manifold and simply too complex and the data too unattainable to be fully considered!

Having decided they do not have sufficient for a proper analysis, the authors of the report continue to specify the aspects of the transport process which the UK can reasonably be expected to mitigate which serves to demonstrate a certain naivety. According to the report the UK can in some ways influence port operations, the quantity of imports and exports and their value, the destination and ownership.

To précis the results of this part of the study some of the conclusions are that a higher tax on bunker fuel might make people consider alternatives but is likely to ensure ships refuel overseas. More control on UK shipping may make for efficient British ships but most likely they would reflag elsewhere. And so it goes on, lots of ideas but little in the way of practical solutions. The authors did in fact take the trouble to canvas twenty six people with knowledge of the industry and their conclusions were frankly unsurprising.

Some of these ‘stakeholders’ thought unilateral action to be a complete waste of time (we are not told what percentage). The report admits that only a global policy will result in meaningful control of pollution such as that being pursued by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) but feels complementary unilateral policies have a place. The report concludes that that ‘the fairest and most practical unilateral measures require a hybrid of apportionment methods. Further research will explore the potential for a hybrid of apportionment methods’. In other words after writing a 103 page report they have arrived at the same conclusion that any junior shipping clerk worth his salt could have told them, namely this is a huge industry, far too complex for simple solutions.

We have regularly listed here the ‘unilateral’ actions taken to limit emissions, not by the ponderous discussions of politicians and academics but those involved in industry, the inventive and savvy companies who are bringing us new designs for ferries and container ships with numerous technical innovations, electric delivery trucks, hybrid vehicles and truck design. This is not to mention the efforts made worldwide where appropriate to switch to less damaging forms of transport, rail freight over road haulage for example.

The politicians who can really make a difference need to make bold moves, no matter how unpopular, the banning of cheap bunker fuel use right across waters in their control, as insisted on by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) prohibiting vessels and vehicles with unacceptable emission levels, infrastructure financing for multi modal carriageetc. The report points out that the Kyoto Protocol specifically omits shipping and aviation and that is the problem. With no mandatory power to force action, seen by politicians as vastly unpopular, damaging to international trade and possibly unenforceable the matter has been left to others.

With the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the IMO apparently unwilling or unable to implement rapid, meaningful changes to avoid the frightening prospects that the report foresees by 2050, things may continue as they are. The IMO has already been heavily criticised by environmentalists and freight organisations alike for their inability to legislate in a timely fashion to solve this hugely important and pressing problem, so it may be that Universities continue to type up their reports on imported computers on foreign paper at a desk manufactured overseas whilst transport industrialists innovate but essential global action remains a distant dream.

A link to the .pdf copy of the full report can be found HERE.