Shipping and the Paris climate agreement: a focus on committed emission

The concept of “committed emissions” allows us to understand what proportion of the Paris-constrained and rapidly diminishing global carbon dioxide (CO2) budget is potentially taken up by existing infrastructure. Here, this concept is applied to international shipping, where long-lived assets increase the likelihood for high levels of committed emissions. To date, committed emissions studies have focussed predominantly on the power sector, or on global analyses in which shipping is a small element, with assumptions of asset lifetimes extrapolated from other transport modes. This study analyses new CO2, ship age and scrappage datasets covering the 11,000 ships included in the European Union’s new emissions monitoring scheme (EU MRV), to deliver original insights on the speed at which new and existing shipping infrastructure must be decarbonised. These results, using ship-specific assumptions on asset lifetimes, show higher committed emissions for shipping than previous estimates based on asset lifetimes similar to the road transport sector. The estimated baseline committed emissions value is equivalent to 85–212% of the carbon budget for 1.5 °C that is available for these EU MRV ships, with the central case exceeding the available carbon budget. The sector does, however, have significant potential to reduce this committed emissions figure without premature scrappage through a combination of slow speeds, operational and technical efficiency measures, and the timely retrofitting of ships to use zero-carbon fuels. Here, it is shown that if mitigation measures are applied comprehensively through strong and rapid policy implementation in the 2020s, and if zero-carbon ships are deployed rapidly from 2030, it is still possible for the ships in the EU MRV system to stay within 1.5 °C carbon budgets. Alongside this, as there are wide variations between and within ship types, this new analysis sheds light on opportunities for decision-makers to tailor policy interventions to deliver more effective CO2 mitigation. Delays to appropriately stringent policy implementation would mean additional measures, such as premature scrappage or curbing the growth in shipping tonne-km, become necessary to meet the Paris climate goals.

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