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In a remarkable stride towards sustainability, the Pyxis Ocean, a cargo ship, recently set sail adorned with innovative “sails” designed to harness wind power. While still utilizing its conventional engine, these sails, crafted from steel and fiber-reinforced plastic, exemplify the modern approach to reducing fuel consumption during international voyages. This feat is a brainchild of BAR Technologies, a UK-based company founded in 2016 by Simon Schofield, a seasoned engineer from elite yacht-racing competitions.

The maritime industry, a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, necessitates urgent reforms. In 2018, shipping, both international and domestic, and fishing collectively generated over a billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, constituting nearly 3% of human-driven emissions. With global trade heavily reliant on shipping, the UN Conference on Trade and Development reported that ships transported over 11 billion tons of goods in 2021, representing over 80% of world trade.

Addressing the imminent environmental challenges, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), comprising 175 member states, unanimously embraced more ambitious climate goals in July 2023. The new targets aim for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by “close to” 2050. By 2030, countries committed to reducing annual emissions by at least 20%, escalating to a 70% reduction by 2040. The remaining emissions are to be offset through carbon removal or sequestration projects.

The shift towards these goals requires immediate technical and operational changes. Measures such as reducing ship speed, incorporating wind power, and introducing a percentage of alternative fuels can yield a substantial emissions cut, according to recent studies. However, achieving the loftiest objectives demands a more extensive transformation.

Widespread adoption of greener fuels, a crucial change, is impeded by the unavailability of viable alternatives like green methanol and e-ammonia. These fuels, though promising, face challenges related to procurement, safety, and cost. The shipping industry’s long lifespan of approximately 25 years per vessel adds complexity to the transition. Investing in ships compatible with future fuels necessitates synchronized technological advancements.

To expedite decarbonization, the experts propose the establishment of “green shipping corridors” — shipping lanes supporting vessels using alternative fuels. Collaboration among ports, governments, fuel providers, and ship owners is vital. National governments must play a pivotal role by formulating regulations and economic policies, turning the colossal investment required into a reality.

While challenges loom large, the latest IMO strategy provides a comprehensive roadmap. The journey to zero emissions is now illuminated, steering the maritime industry toward a sustainable and green future.

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