Science & Environment

Shipping to steer cleaner carbon course

North Star cargo ship
Image caption Gains of 30% in shipping emissions could come just from efficiency improvements to cargo ships

Ships could be charged different fees to dock depending on how much carbon they emit, according to ideas being discussed at the UN climate summit.

The government of Papua New Guinea is considering the plan, and is hoping other nations may become involved.

The Carbon War Room, co-founded by Sir Richard Branson, has launched an online tool grading 60,000 commercial vessels according to their emissions.

Shipping contributes about 1Gt of CO2 each year, more than the entire UK.

Currently shipping fuels are exempt from national carbon accounts, which has caused much head-scratching about how their emissions could be curbed.

Ranked, filed

The new approach is to give businesses the tool they need to selectively use lower-emitting vessels.

"The Carbon War Room has been advocating the need for business to play a leading role in the fight to reduce carbon emissions," said Sir Richard.

"This data hub for shipping will help the key players in the industry and their customers make better decisions for their businesses and ultimately, the planet."

Data for 60,000 ships, including many of the big, long-distance carriers, has been put in to the website using data from international registers and methods developed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

The project's initiators hope that big corporations in particular will selectively use low-carbon carriers, encouraging all operators to improve their operations and reducing the industry's overall carbon footprint.

"We're hoping that companies like Nike or Walmart will go for it for two reasons," said Peter Boyd of the Carbon War Room.

"Firstly, they're concerned about greening their brands, but also about securing their supply chains."

But, he said, he was also intrigued by the idea that governments could set differential landing charges for ships depending on their emissions.

Papua New Guinea's delegate to the UN climate convention meeting, Kevin Conrad, told BBC News his government was considering the idea as part of a bigger package of measures designed to cut carbon through engagement with the private sector.

"Our duty is to find those that are leading the charge in the private sector, and work with them to achieve our climate goals," he said.

The ships would be rated on an A-G scale according to their efficiency.

The scheme's labels look very similar to the ratings given to consumer electrical goods such as refrigerators in the EU, which have helped drive up standards.

The Carbon War Room - a non-profit organisation aiming to "harness the power of entrepreneurs" to curb climate change - is hoping that ship owners will voluntarily choose to lodge their emissions data on the website in order to boost their profile.

They calculate that global shipping emissions could be cut by about 30% just through increasing efficiency, although much greater gains could materialise in future as designers pursue new - or revisit old - concepts such as sails, kites and solar power.

Ships could be charged different fees to dock depending on how much carbon they emit, according to ideas being discussed on the sidelines of the UN climate summit.

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