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Expanded Panama Canal could offer inadvertent emissions cut
The expanded Panama Canal officially opened on June 26, 2016

Expanded Panama Canal could offer inadvertent emissions cut

While the Panama Canal’s expansion was necessary to enable the waterway to handle many of the large vessels that are now an industry norm, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) claims it will also help to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

In an interview with CM, the ACP’s environmental protection specialist Alexis Rodriguez said that bigger vessels have brought an increased amount of cargo per transit since the expansion opened in June 2016, resulting in a reduction in transits and therefore in CO2 emissions.

The Panama Canal’s expansion allowed vessels with a capacity of up to approximately 13,000 teu to pass through the canal, compared to just 5,000 teu before the expansion.

According to the ACP’s calculations, passing through the Panama Canal, instead of alternative routes, will lead to savings of over 160m tonnes of CO2 emissions between 2016 and 2026. That is an average of 16m tonnes per year, which is approximately the same amount of Mongolia’s CO2 annual emissions.

It is estimated that maritime transport emits a total of about 1bn tonnes of CO2 annually.

Alternative routes to the Panama Canal include the Suez Canal and the route around the bottom of South America. These routes are usually longer and therefore more CO2 is emitted.

The authority estimated that, over the canal’s 102 year history, 650m tonnes of CO2 emissions were saved by reducing the length of vessels’ voyages.

Panama presented a paper outlining the canal’s contributions to emission reductions from international shipping during the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) 70th Marine Environment Protection Committee session in London.

One of the company’s key projects to reduce CO2 emissions was the launch of software which automatically calculates a vessel’s estimated emissions during the transit of a particular route.

The software, which takes account of vessels’ type, volume of cargo, transport mode and cargo’s origin and destination, allows shippers to select the most environmentally sustainable route by incorporating different routes and cargo transport modes.

According to Rodriguez, who spoke at the IMO, the industry is increasingly more interested in knowing which route is shorter and more environmentally sustainable as they are aware this would lead to reduced fuel costs as well.

At a side event during the session, the Panama Canal presented the IMO with its Green Connection Award for the organisation’s “strong commitment to reducing emissions and preserving the environment”.

However, the organisation has previously been widely criticised by environmental campaigners for delaying its carbon reduction plan.

The Panama Canal’s reward programme, launched in July this year, was designed to be awarded to customers and ships exceeding the environmental standards set by the IMO.

The recognition takes into account a series of environmental parameters, including Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), Environmental Ship Index (ESI), nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from Tier-2 engine performance, vessels with liquefied natural gas (LNG) propulsion and tonnes of CO2 reductions achieved by using the canal route compared to alternative ones.

Speaking to CM about CMA CGM’s recently announced plan to promote the development and use of LNG-powered container ships, Rodriguez said that, while it entails a certain cost, the initiative should be applauded for its potential significant environmental benefits.

He added that studies showed that the use of LNG as ship fuel could mean a complete removal of Sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions, a reduction of up to 85% of NOx emissions and of at least 20% of CO2 emissions.