The role of shipping in tackling methane emissions, according to the latest IPCC Report
The climate clock is ticking, and the time to act is now
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a scientific body created to provide the state of knowledge on climate change to support policymakers with risk management, adaptation, and mitigation. The IPCC summarized its previous reports and contributions since 2015 in its sixth assessment cycle (AR6), restating the need for rapid, transformative, and immediate climate action. Methane – a greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide (CO2) – plays a vital role in the scale and speed of climate efforts to keep the global temperature below 1.5℃.
We have a very short window before reaching climate critical thresholds. The shipping industry is well-positioned to cut and avoid methane emissions over the next few years.
You Might Be Thinking…What is Methane, and Why Haven’t I Heard of It?
Like CO2, methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) with a shorter lifetime of about 12 years in the atmosphere compared to centuries for CO2. Even though methane does not stick around for long, it is a potent GHG that absorbs 84 times more energy than CO2 in the atmosphere.
Say My Name: Fossil Fuels Phaseout
The IPCC offers the blueprint to secure a livable future: deep emissions cuts now and a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels. Scientists are clear that we need to reduce GHGs other than CO2. With the second largest share and growth in gross GHG emissions, methane is of tremendous importance. According to the IPCC, addressing the climate emergency requires urgently tackling methane emissions in the near term.
To limit warming to 1.5°C, the world must reduce methane emissions by a third by 2030 and almost halve them by 2050. If we do not urgently cut these emissions, this will cause unprecedented costs to people, economies and the environment, including food and water shortages, extinction of species, and threats to human health from air pollution, disease, malnutrition, and exposure to extreme heat. To achieve this goal, transformative and sustained change is required across all sectors and systems.
“[rapid and sustained reductions in methane emissions] can improve air quality preventing air pollution-related premature deaths, chronic diseases and damages to ecosystems and crops.”– IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report
Although methane emissions from shipping have grown by 150% between 2012 to 2018, currently there are no international methane emissions regulations for this sector. However, several opportunities within the regulatory framework, including the current GHG reduction strategy review at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), offer a chance to increase accountability within the maritime sector for its significant contribution to the climate crisis. For example, market-based measures put a price on GHG emissions. This is a financial incentive for the shipping industry to reduce its fuel consumption and emissions while collecting funds that can be used to promote the uptake of clean fuels and mitigate climate effects. Additionally, a life cycle assessment (LCA) approach to evaluate GHG emissions from fuel production to the end-use of that fuel by a vessel ensures that the shipping sector is held accountable for its true climate footprint.
Undoubtedly, the task ahead is not an easy one. But we know further delays in immediate, robust climate action threatens the very future of humanity. The shipping sector must collectively and urgently respond to the climate crisis and commit to accelerating the phasedown and phaseout of all fossil fuels.
It is now or never that we unlock the means for a greener, healthier future. The shipping industry must get on board to end fossil fuel use, or we all will miss the boat.