The hoopla around the unveiling of Tesla’s electric truck demonstrates the preoccupation with domestic transport when it comes to greenhouse gases.
But last week the focus shifted to the effect of extended supply chain on the environment, when the International Maritime Organisation agreed that greenhouse gas emissions from shipping by at least 50 per cent be 2050 compared to 2008. And it set out its ambition to see emissions eliminated completely.
That’s a massive challenge. Shipping accounted for 932 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2015 – some 2.6 per cent of the total of 36 billion tonnes, according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transport. And some countries, notably the United States, have opposed the IMO policy.
But some of the big container lines are already making progress. Maersk, for example, says it reduced CO2 emissions be 43 per cent between 2007 and 2017. It has set itself the target of a 60 per cent reduction between 2007 and 2020.
Of course, advances in ship and engine design can improve efficiency. And the use of alternative fuels could also have an impact.
Last month Stena Line set out plans for live tests of battery power on one of its ferries, the Stena Jutlandica, which operates between Gothenburg and Frederikshavn.
However, at the moment Stena’s ambition is for batteries that will have a range of 50 nautical miles – a long way off the many thousands of miles that a container ship travels in just one journey.
In fact, an IMO study suggested that ships’ energy consumption and CO2 emissions could be reduced by up to 75 per cent by applying operational measures and implementing existing technologies.
One of the operational ways that reductions in emissions has been achieved is “slow steaming”. This reduces the amount of fuel required and consequently the output of greenhouse gases.
Since slow steaming became the norm a few years ago, supply chains have had to adjust to the fact that goods will spend appreciably longer at sea, which of course creates challenges for inventory management.
Better technologies will no doubt make a huge difference to the environmental performance of global supply chains. But it would be a brave person that suggested that technology could be the complete solution to the greenhouse gas emissions from the global shipping industry. Operational changes will also have a role to play.