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The case for gradual decarbonization in the shipping industry

Talk to the major players in the shipping sector, and they’ll tell you that they’re in favour of bringing an end to the age of fossil fuels. Talk to the mainstream politicians, and they’ll tell you that they want industries to go green, with sustainable investments spurring a new era of economic growth in an age of chaos.

When it comes to decarbonization, everyone agrees that action must be taken imminently. Yet, ask the industry more practical questions as to how and when they will decarbonize, and answers will be less apparent. Remember the COP26 and the media hype surrounding it? For what it's worth, considerable targets were set at this event. Whether they will be kept or not, however, is another story.

Even if the targets set at COP26 are fully met by all parties (extremely unlikely) the best-case scenario leaves us with a 2.5 degrees Celsius increase in temperature by the end of the century. Perhaps this sounds abstract? Or not alarming? Well, the effects of climate change are already being felt by many. Extreme weather is becoming even more common, while coastal areas are under immense pressure as a result of rising sea levels. This is all cause for concern. And as concerned global citizens, we should push for gradual decarbonization to ensure a better future for us all.

Smart decarbonization, not greenwashing

When it comes to decarbonizing entire industries, there is simply no readily available, one size fits all solution. We cannot aim for the easy way out. For example, moving to solar and wind power is a step ideal for countries that get a lot of sunlight and wind. Likewise, moving from fossil fuel-powered cars towards electric vehicles is another piece of the puzzle. However, how much energy will be spent on producing new technologies that power such innovations efficiently? And where will this energy come from? Will we have to burn 500 litres of heavy fuel oil to produce 2 electric batteries? If so, is it all worth it?

These are all questions that must be answered. However, we must first and foremost take stock of what we can do now and be smart about what we want to achieve in the short and long term. Often, companies aim to “greenwash” their products and services, ensuring they receive the upside of positive PR without the downside of spending money and overhauling infrastructure and operations. With that being said, in today’s world, there is no room for greenwashing. Consumers are demanding more accountability from both the public and private sector, and while in the past greenwashing could have made you successful, today it can very well break you.

“In the past greenwashing could have made you but in today’s world, it can very well break you.”

For this reason, it is very important to be 100% honest when offering solutions. These complicated, interconnected problems will not be simple to solve. What may be marketed as a solution is likely to be only a part of the solution. Comprehensive studies and action plans need to be drawn up for credible steps toward decarbonization to begin to take place.

Where are we now?

As of this moment in time, global powers have agreed to cut their carbon emissions significantly by the end of the decade, with various countries aiming for total decarbonization by 2050. The key to achieving these targets is not only to make empty promises, but also to have an actual plan to get there. Unfortunately, it seems that several major industrial powers have not yet drawn up credible plans. This is risky not only because it might result in these countries going back on their word for economic purposes, but also because everyone else’s sacrifices might end up being in vain.

That is not to say that we should expect vulnerable countries, which in most cases pollute less than everyone else, to bear the brunt of the costs for the mistakes of the developed world. In fact, the developed world should encourage green investment in both developing and underdeveloped countries, with the ultimate aim being that these countries get to skip the first, second, and third industrial revolutions, going straight to the fourth.

Not sure how this will impact globalization? If there’s one thing that is certain, it is that the fourth industrial revolution will inevitably lead to more digitalization. In turn, digitalization will lead both towards better solutions, including better use of data and analysis, as well as a reduction in daily global emissions.

How can we play a part?

Playing a part in the decarbonization shift is easier than it seems. Firstly, you need to voice your support for those of us who are constantly pushing newer solutions that will enable us to make this jump. We recently came together with several maritime technology companies and signed an open letter to the shipping industry stating just that. Secondly, you must also ensure that this investment results in more efficiency, rather than all talk and no action.

“Shipping has abundant, innovative and fully commercially-available clean technologies that can significantly reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s time to use them alongside new fuels.” (Maritime Technology Open Letter)

At BunkerTrace, we use synthetic DNA and the power of blockchain to trace the origin, composition, and quality of marine fuels. But how does this affect decarbonization? The answer to this question is that change happens gradually. And likewise, the change from one fuel to another, from unsustainable practices to more sustainable ones, is taking place by the day and by the tonne.

In this regard, BunkerTrace offers its clients the chance to gain immediate access to fuel properties, improving accountability and efficiency. This within itself increases peace of mind in an age where maritime delays and disputes are becoming more and more common, ensuring compliance and also the trusted reporting of ESG objectives.

In simple terms, what we strive to do is to provide private and public parties with the chance to ensure that their fuel is as clean and safe as can be, as well as sourced reliably. In an age where people are demanding responsibility, transparency, and accountability, we seek to provide clients with the solutions that enable them to be just that.

Might we be a little optimistic in thinking that we stand to make a difference? In the grand scheme of things, perhaps. Even small changes, however, have the potential to result in sweeping change in the lives of many. And at BunkerTrace, that is exactly what we’re after.




BunkerTrace bridges the physical and digital to enable total transparency and trusted reporting in the shipping industry.

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Deanna MacDonald

Deanna MacDonald

Blockchain architect. Advocate of human potential and the decentralisation of power and the resources necessary to achieve it. Always curious and discovering.

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