Hot funnels #3: shipping and climate media wrap

The Greens Port oil terminal in Houston is one of a series of storage and refinery complexes closed due to flooding (Pic: Flickr)

How could climate change impact global shipping?

Put aside the direct links between global warming and Hurricane Harvey, although the BBC does a good job covering that ground here.

Instead consider extreme weather is more likely in a hotter world — and then witness how this storm shut down ports across the US Gulf Coast.

Energy hub Houston closed for business as winds and rain hit the town. The port’s twitter feed announced all operations were on hold due to flooding.

With ports at Galveston and Corpus Christi also closed, the ripple impacts are likely to be severe — especially for the oil and gas sector. Many ports will also require dredging, reports Forbes.

According to Platts around 2.2 million b/d of refining capacity has been shut: ExxonMobil, Shell and Phillips 66 among those companies impacted.

Curiously London Gateway port — across the Atlantic from Houston — chose this as the time to brag about its “superior weather resilience” across social media.

As storms battered ports into submission, further North diminishing sea ice levels in the Arctic mean ships can sail freely through routes previously impassable formic of the year.

Last week an ice-strengthened LNG tanker became the first to cross the Northern Sea Route above the Russian coast without an accompanying ice breaker.

Rising temperatures in the region mean sea ice levels are far lower than normal, meaning a tanker that can break through ice up to 2.1m thick can now carry gas all year round.

“The environmental risks are enormous,” Seas At Risk John Maggs told the BBC, warning of the potential for catastrophe of industrialising a pristine Arctic region.

Elsewhere in the Arctic the Washington Port’s Chris Mooney travelled the Northwest passage over Canada, chronicling the rise in traffic as shippers seek to exploit a new shortcut.

Data compiled by Robert Headland and colleagues of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge show 254 transits of seven separate possible routes between Amundsen’s passage and the end of last year, with a sharp increase in recent years,” Mooney wrote.

“There were 16 crossings last year, including the Crystal Serenity, a massive cruise ship carrying some 1,000 passengers that was guided by its own icebreaker. The cruise ship will be back later this year.”

A giant passes on

The world of climate diplomacy took a moment out to remember the life of ex Marshall Islands foreign minister Tony De Brum, who passed away last week.

A passionate campaigner for Marshallese independence, an end to nuclear testing in the islands and a global voice on climate change — De Brum left behind a significant legacy.

“He was a key figure in achieving the full independence of his country in 1986 on terms that granted Marshall Islanders a compact of free association and $150m compensation for the damages caused by the tests. This deal has since been criticised, by de Brum himself as well as others, as inadequate compared to the costs that continue to be borne by the Marshallese.
“While in recent years de Brum has become associated with climate action, his anti-nuclear crusade was the work of his lifetime and extended beyond the interests of his people. In 2014, under his ministry, the Marshall Islands launched a legal attack on the US government, accusing them of breaching the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT). In the same year he was the architect of a landmark case in the International Court of Justice that charged nine nuclear powers with failing to negotiate nuclear disarmament in good faith.”

Read Karl Mathiesen’s full obituary in Climate Home, where he also alludes to De Brum’s 2015 demand that the IMO tackle shipping pollution.

War on dirty ships

…is being fought in Africa, the US and Venice. Last week Nigeria’s maritime chief called time on dirty ships.

“When vessels berth at our various ports, we take sample of fuel and so many other things we do to check the quality of fuels and emissions there off,” said Dakuku Peterside.

“But, the penalty for violation of Marpol Annex VI would be not allowing such vessels to call in our territorial waters.”

Meanwhile tighter emission standards in the US appearing to be working. The ports of Oakland, Long Beach and Los Angeles all reported cuts to pollution levels over the last 12 months..

“This is really hard to do… it’s amazing stuff,” said Chris Cannon, head of environmental management at the Port of LA. The data was released in the port’s latest emission inventory.

“Every single pollutant tracked by the Port of LA dropped between 2015 and 2016, including the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, smog-forming nitrogen oxide, and diesel particulate matter, which causes cancer,” he added.

Meanwhile in Venice, residents are growing increasingly angry at the high levels of diesel fumes pumped into the city from passing cruise vessels.

“If you’re going to Venice don’t forget your gas mask” wrote the former environment chief of Germany’s transport department in the Guardian.

India takes shipping to court

In Delhi environmental lawyer Shibani Ghosh met the government at the National Green Tribunal on August 17 to discuss pollution from ships.

“Shipping emissions have a severe impact on the ambient air quality of coastal areas and contributes to global air pollution as well,” her submission to the court contended.

The NGT has powers second only to the Supreme Court, and could order ports across the country to impose tougher air quality regulations. The next hearing is on September 19.

Hydrogen power

Here’s France’s environment chief Nicholas Hulot riding a French-built hydrogen vessel that’s seeking to show how this fuel is the answer to shipping’s carbon footprint.

In a month of innovation, designs for the world’s largest cargo sailing ship and a tanker boosted by vast solar panels were also released.

Still, the fastest way for ships to curb emissions is simply to cut their speed, argued Faig Abbasov from Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment.

“Research compiled by CE Delft illustrates how fleet-wide operational speed reduction can cut emissions of ship CO2 and other harmful particulates by as much as 35%. And given that this does not affect the installation of powerful engines (hence higher design speed), ships will have enough reserve power to sail against the waves in adverse weather conditions.
“The ultimate benefit of speed management is the potential to peak and reduce GHG emissions in the short-term. As a result, the process towards decarbonisation can take longer and less burdensome, as more time will be available to test and deploy new technologies.”