Nautical nerves in Hong Kong

When Lord Nicholas Stern sketched out some predictions for the report of the UN High-Level Advisory Group on Mobilizing Climate Change Resources, due to be published on Friday, at least one member of the audience at Hong  Kong’s Business Summit on Climate Leadership was paying close attention.  

Lord Stern, speaking on Monday, was careful not to give too much away in advance of publication, but Arthur Bowring, managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association noticed his mention of a tax on air and marine emissions, currently not part of the Kyoto process.  

According to the UK Department for Transport, “growth in emissions from these sectors is likely to be significant: emissions from international shipping are predicted to increase from 843 Mt CO2 in 2007 to 1,903 Mt CO2 (lower estimate), 2,292 Mt CO2 (central estimate) or 2,681 Mt CO2 (high estimate) in 2050 (increasing from a 2.7% share of global emissions to 3-6% in 2050), whereas emissions from international aviation are predicted to increase from 378 Mt CO2 in 2006 to 1,442 Mt CO2 (low estimate), 1,815 Mt CO2 (central estimate) or >3,000 (high estimate) in 2050 (increasing from a 1% share of global emissions to 2-4.5% in 2050).”

Mr Bowring and his colleagues are already embattled with the European Union, which wants a 20% reduction in shipping emissions by 2020. The shipowners believe that an emissions target would penalise developing nations such as China and argue instead for efficiency and energy-density targets. The IMO, he says, has drawn up its own efficiency targets and anticipates that voluntary standards will grow steadily tighter though, he admits, these are for new ships and do not affect the existing fleet.

Ongoing research into retrofittable technologies that provide greater efficiency in combustion, he says, do promise more immediate improvements. Fleet owners can be encouraged to seek efficiencies by regulation, he argues, but the rising cost of bunker fuel is an equally powerful incentive.

There have been notable improvements in operations, he argues. Hong Kong now has a voluntary charter that requires ships to burn only low sulphur fuel when at port in Hong Kong, a response to local concerns about pollution from burning bunker fuels. Fourteen container-carriers, three cruise lines and one car-carrier have already signed up to the charter and the shipowners hope that the momentum of the voluntary commitment will force a laggard Hong Kong government to regulate.