Less is more

Shipping - Less is more

Jan von Häfen is Deputy Head of the Department of Environment and Climate Affairs for Shipping at the Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure. He has also been a delegate on the Maritime Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) since 2009.

Mr von Häfen, what interests do you represent on the MEPC?

My main focus is on the interests of shipping and environmental protection. In terms of your transport services, shipping is a really environmentally sustainable mode of transport. There is still huge potential regarding environmental and climate protection anyway, which needs to be tapped, mainly in terms of reducing emissions. That’s what we’re working on at the IMO. We want to organize shipping in such a way that it can also play an essential part in world trade in future.

Are potential savings the biggest in the shipping sector compared to other modes of transport?

I wouldn’t say the biggest. Road transport has the advantage of shorter renewal cycles. A ship isn’t put into service for the next five years, but the next 25 years – so the potential is much greater. We want to get the most out of that potential but at the same time we don’t want to smother shipping with excessively strict regulations.

How do you intend to get it?

For shipping companies, changing registers is associated with low costs – they can easily decide which flag they want to fly when they put to sea. If we adopt regional solutions – for Europe, for example – we’re not doing ourselves any favors in economic or ecological terms. Only international regulations will help us avoid distorting competition. We have gradually reduced the permitted sulphur content for shipping fuels in Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) to 0.1 percent. The MEPC has also decided that the upper limit will be reduced from 3.5 to 0.5 percent worldwide from 2020 – that’s a huge step. This comes with the requirement for shipping to switch to lower sulphur fuels.

Measures that seem long overdue. Were they blind to earlier intervention?

No – what was really needed was an awareness of the problem in the shipping industry. We have that now, which we should perhaps see as the biggest success. Companies have learned that they have to do their bit. Not least because many customers have now become environmentally aware. They are interested to see goods transported in the most climate-neutral way possible.

So how environmentally friendly are the latest container giants then?

A lot more environmentally friendly than just a couple of years ago. We introduced an energy efficiency index for new ships here at the IMO, setting guideline values from 2013 that are not to be exceeded. There will be a data collection system from 2019, where fuel consumption will be recorded and converted into CO2 emissions. We will use these results to decide whether we need to introduce other operational, technical or market-based measures for reducing emissions further.

Is the end of heavy oil operation in sight?

We have taken steps on the path away from heavy oil. But, as I said at the beginning: Renewal cycles are very long in the shipping industry. So it will take a few more years.

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Picture Credits: © Maria Schulz