Low Carbon Shipping & Shipping in Changing Climates

A Research Led Consortium on Sustainable Shipping



The long-term viability of the shipping industry is dependent on its various interconnections with ecological, environmental, economic and human systems. Currently, the industry is facing scrutiny on issues ranging from air pollution to noise pollution and from human safety to marine biodiversity. Perhaps the most pressing issue for the industry is climate change and its mitigation. The sector is commonly cited as the most environmentally friendly form of transport but this will be a challenge in the future as it current contribution (around 3% of global CO2 emissions) is expected to increase to around 20 – 25% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions by 2050 as other sectors under national inventories decarbonise. The industry has adopted ‘first of its kind’ international regulation in its efforts to mitigate CO2 emissions, but the impact is estimated by some to be around a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions on business as usual by 2050, far from the reductions required if the industry was to be sustainable. The SCC project aims to inform the policy making process by developing new knowledge and understanding on the subject of the shipping system, its energy efficiency and emissions, and its transition to a low carbon, more resilient future.

Some of the important questions facing the shipping industry are; How will the mandated introduction of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) in 2013 lead to changes in the fleet; will ships fit sulphur scrubbing technology or switch to distillate fuel in 2015 (MARPOL); will Selective Catalytic Reduction and Exhaust Gas Recirculation technology be compatible with scrubbing solutions to allow continued use of heavy fuel oil in Emissions Control Areas from 2016 (MARPOL); will Liquid Natural Gas become a mainstream fuel; will wind power see a renaissance and will ships remain slow or speed up again?

In the longer term, whilst the wider mitigation and adaptation rhetoric still focuses on avoiding a 2°C temperature rise, implementation to achieve this lags far behind and the current global energy consumption levels put the Earth on a trajectory to warm by 6°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. Shipping is no exception: although dialogue about its decarbonisation role and responsibilities exists at the IMO, EU and UK, no carbon policies have yet been implemented. Indeed, the EU recently suspended plans to introduce regional CO2 legislation for shipping, preferring for the time being to focus on monitoring, reporting and verification. The rapidly shifting landscape that the changing climate has the potential to create (either directly or indirectly) has implications for wider energy, food and economic systems in which shipping plays a major role: emphasising the need for strategic and long-term planning.


Project Aims

The consortium in the SCC project seeks to understand the scope for greater energy efficiency of the supply side, understand the demand side drivers and understanding the supply and demand interactions in shipping. To research these themes the consortium utilises its access to ‘big data’ and modelling to understand real performance trends and drivers, validate assumptions, computational simulations and models and verify whole systems results. The overall aims of the SCC project are to achieve the following:

Connect, for the first time, the latest climate change impact and adaptation analysis with knowledge and models of the shipping industry to explore its vulnerability to changing climates.

Develop greater understanding of the role of shipping in underpinning future food and fuel security in a carbon and climate constrained world.

Consolidate research taking place across a number of research projects (engineering, energy systems and shipping), both in the UK and elsewhere

Further develop the modelling capacity developed under RCUK Energy’s 2009 Low Carbon Shipping project to answer the increasing number of new questions that are emerging both since 2009 and as a result of research carried out in the last 3 years.

Achieve, through improved data and modelling techniques, an unprecedented level of credibility for models and analysis of the shipping system to enable shipping industry stakeholders and policy makers to manage uncertainty, and take the long term view.

Integrate knowledge about public and private law to identify policy options at all levels of governance and the options for private standard setting bodies (such as classification societies) to achieve significant GHG savings in a manner which is consistent with other concerns.

Engage in the UK and EU debate around control of its shipping GHG emissions, and to provide the tools to assess how governments and stakeholders can most effectively influence the pathway of a global industry, while taking into account legal and other constraints.


Cross-cutting themes

The whole systems approach is crucial in order to undertake to meet the objectives and address our perceptions of the knowledge deficits exposed by the state of the art and to meet the project’s aims. In recognition of the challenge of managing and delivering outcomes in a multi-university, multi-disciplinary systems research, the SCC project is organised as a three themed research structure:

Theme 1: Understanding the scope for greater energy efficiency on the transport’s supply side – the ship as a system, (UCL Mechanical engineering, Strathclyde, Newcastle)

Objective: The interconnection of ship design techniques and performance analysis with environmental conditions and operational strategy validated using real-world operator data to propose improvements to existing vessels and step-change solutions for future shipping. The theme will develop tools to simulate the ship as a system taking full account of interactions between the hydrodynamics of the hull, propulsor, main machinery and auxiliary systems in a range of realistic conditions. The tools will be used to assess the impact of modifications to existing ships and to explore step-change solutions, including both synergies and unintended negative consequences.

Theme 2: Understanding demand side drivers and trends – trade and transport demand, (UCL Energy, Manchester, Southampton)

Objective: To investigate plausible future developments of international trade and resource availability to produce a suite of global scenarios for shipping demand and its drivers. To assess a) the direct impacts of climate change and mitigation policies on the shipping system (including polices aimed specifically at ships and ports, or climate impacts on shipping infrastructure) and b) the equally important indirect impacts, such as the effect of energy system decarbonisation on the trade of fossil fuels, or climate impacts on key trading commodities.

Theme 3: Understanding supply/demand interactions – transition and evolution of the shipping system, (UCL-Energy, UCL Mechanical engineering, UCL Laws, Strathclyde Newcastle, Manchester)

Objective: Development of tools and their deployment in combination with the project’s work on supply side energy efficiency and demand side drivers for the analysis of the different pathways for the shipping industry and how transitions can be accelerated.

Cross-cutting research

The interconnection between the themes and their ability to meet the aims of the project, is achieved through three cross-cutting research questions:

How much further can technical and operational interventions reduce the energy demand of the existing and new build fleet? Are theoretical improvements in performance evidenced in the real world and can the industry improve its take-up of appropriate technical and operational interventions?

What are the foreseeable “what if “ scenarios (including those associated with trajectories of 4-6 degree rise in temperatures by 2100); how are transport supply and demand influenced by food and fuel security issues and can stakeholders increase awareness and understanding of those scenarios to enable a more resilient system?

What do ‘optimal’ futures for the shipping system look like; where does the shipping system currently exhibit sub-optimality, how can shipping transition from its current configuration to a more resilient low carbon future and what would the research and implementation roadmap look like to get there?


Project duration

November 2013 to April 2017