MSC’s climate credentials criticised after becoming top 10 EU carbon emitter

MSC’s climate credentials criticised after becoming top 10 EU carbon emitter
MSC believes mega-ships like the MSC Gülsün will lower its carbon footprint

MSC’s environmental record has been challenged after analysis from NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) indicated the shipping line would be the eight biggest carbon emitter in the EU if shipping was part of the bloc’s emissions trading system (ETS).

Having emitted 11m tonnes of CO2 in 2018, the carrier joins airline Ryanair and eight coal plants in the top 10.

Ships sailing to and from Europe emitted more than 139m tonnes of CO2 last year – meaning that if shipping were a country it would be the EU’s 8th biggest emitter after the Netherlands.

The shipping industry is facing scrutiny from environmentalists as it is the only sector with no measures to reduce its emissions in the EU and “yet it does not pay for its carbon pollution,” noted a statement from T&E.

Meanwhile, the maritime sector is exempt under EU law from paying tax on its fuel, an effective subsidy worth €24bn (US$27bn) a year.

Faig Abbasov, shipping manager at T&E, said: “A company that consumers have never heard of has joined the top 10 polluters list in Europe.

“This industry doesn’t pay a cent for its carbon emissions and the EU has so far done nothing to curb its damage. European trade doesn’t have to be dirty just because EU leaders have neglected to clean up shipping.”

The study also found that emissions from ships carrying goods to and from France were larger than the CO2 from all the cars in the 10 largest French cities and the Grand Est region combined.

Shipping emissions are so big that in five countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway, the sector emitted as much CO2 as all the cars nationally.

T&E welcomed a commitment from new European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to bring international shipping emissions under the bloc’s ETS to help make Europe carbon neutral.

However, the NGO also called for a CO2 standard for how much ships can emit while in operation, in order to accelerate the uptake of zero-carbon fuels and technologies.

Abbasov added: “It’s high time national leaders support President Ursula von der Leyen and the European Parliament in reigning in long-ignored maritime emissions. To make shipping do its fair share, Europe must bring shipping into its carbon market and mandate CO2 standards for all ships calling at its ports.”

MSC recently noted that its  fleet improvement programme resulted in a 13% reduction in  CO2 emissions per transport work (grams of CO2 emissions to move 1 tonne of cargo 1 nautical mile) between 2015 and 2018.

It has also completed a retrofit program in its existing fleet with the installation of Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (ECGS) to reduce emissions of sulphur oxides and other pollutants.

In its strategy to comply with the International Maritime Organization’s sulphur regulations, the shipping line will combine the use of ECGS, conventional low-sulphur fuel and biofuels.

The next generation of 23,000+ teu newbuilds – led by MSC Gülsün, the largest container ship in the world – has introduced a new class of sustainable container shipping, with the lowest carbon footprint by design, at 7.49 grams of  CO2 emissions to move 1 tonne of cargo 1 nautical mile.

Bud Darr, executive vice president of maritime policy and government affairs at MSC Group, said: “The great challenge which remains for container shipping this century is how to decarbonise and meet the UN IMO’s future emissions goals beyond 2030.

“While we are fully supporting these more distant targets, this will not be achievable without some major breakthroughs in fuel and propulsion technologies.”

The company is currently studying the potential of new alternative fuel sources, and is engaging with potential vendors to investigate solutions related to biofuel blends, hydrogen fuel cells, complementary battery power and, possibly, wind and solar.

MSC recently became the first major shipping line to use 30% biofuel blends in its vessels calling in Rotterdam, with the potential for CO2 reductions.

The trials were completed with a minimal 10% blend fuel and following further trials the company is now using much higher 30% blends.

Darr stated: “When using such blended fuel, we can expect an estimated 15-20% reduction in absolute CO2 emissions. The potential CO2 reduction in the bio component of these fuels could reach 80-90%, which we will monitor and confirm over time.”

Responsibly sourced biofuels could provide an alternative solution for the shipping sector to meet the 2030 IMO level of ambition for CO2 emissions intensity reduction, noted the carrier, as well as to make significant progress toward the 2050 levels of ambition.