Is Malaysia ready for IMO decarbonization goals?

By Dr. Izyan Munirah Mohd Zaideen, senior lecturer at Faculty of Maritime Studies, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu; and Captain Mohd Faizal Ramli, EHS Marine Specialist in oil and gas sector.

International ocean-going ships account for three percent of global annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which have a profound and major impact on climate change.

Despite the fact that maritime transportation is the least carbon-intensive mode of transportation, GHG emissions are expected to rise if no action is taken to reduce carbon emissions. These emissions are anticipated to climb by up to 250 percent by 2050 under business-as-usual scenarios of doubling global trade. Therefore, the maritime industry is under pressure to hasten emission reductions.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s initial GHG strategy seeks to cut carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 from 2008 level and at least 50 percent of overall greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry by 2050. The implementation of the initial IMO GHG Strategy marks a seismic shift in the global effort to reduce emissions.

As an IMO member, Malaysia must demonstrate its commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050. Though the strategy’s objective is apparent, its implementation into practical regulations is still unclear. Nonetheless, strategies for the maritime industry to contribute to the goal of reducing emissions by 2050 are still being debated.

There is presently no specialized policy or action plan in place to support the emission reduction targets outlined in the initial GHG strategy. The desired transformation is a significant step above what we now have. We may need to create domestic emissions targets and implement regulations establishing emission reduction targets for the maritime industry.

The IMO’s target of a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2050 is ambitious but vital. Whatever the reason, we have no other option but to move forward with decarbonizing the shipping industry. We must approach the GHG issue with the proper mindset. Malaysia has to move forward with adaptation measures and establish favorable conditions for GHG reduction aspirations.

Clear policy instruments are an important driving force for the implementation of greater emission reduction solutions. Great reductions can be achieved through a combination of efficiency improvements and lower emissions per unit of energy used. Nonetheless, a variety of modelling results showed that even with complete efficiency improvement, we cannot expect long-term GHG reductions while using conventional fuel.

Successful decarbonization strategies can be realized through fuel switching – from fossil fuels to carbon-free alternative energy, thus clean alternative energy sources should be widely accessible. Several future scenarios have identified potential investments in future fuels such as hydrogen, electric, ammonia, and biofuel. After we triumph over these obstacles, we are on the way to greener shipping.

It is important for a shift away from fossil fuels and the creation of alternative energy production and supply sources. Aside from the present spotlight of renewable energy sources such as solar, marine renewable energy offers enormous potential to contribute to the transition to a more sustainable energy source that has yet to be fully analyzed. Energy security, economic prosperity, and environmentally sustainable growth are the overarching objectives of the energy transition.

Malaysia must form strong partnerships with regional and global collaborators to encourage local capacity building, initiate long-term climate investments, and promote knowledge and technology transfers in order to accelerate the process. By bridging academia, industry, and other key stakeholders, the government can assist in facilitating the transition by ensuring appropriate technological, economic, environmental, and political criteria are met. It is a good time for Malaysia to build national strength using existing national resources and empower itself to stand out among the giants, rather than simply exporting resources for a modest monetary gain.

Research can play a critical role in the transition to low-carbon maritime transportation. It can assist in determining the technical as well as financial viability of a number of good potential low-carbon measures and establish a setting that makes decarbonization initiatives easier to implement. Stakeholders, including the government and private sector, should allocate a budget for research and development adequately, and talented researchers should be encouraged to participate.

The maritime industry must implement fundamental changes in fuels, technologies, operations, and business practices while not overburdening an already stressed industry. Hence, shipping companies and ship owners must begin upgrading their fleets by investing in new hybrid and electric vessels and retrofitting existing ships with cutting-edge smart ship technology.

Because this shift is a substantial step beyond the current system, there are credible concerns about the transformation’s cost, the scalability of remedies, and implementation timelines. The advancement of efficient fuel technology, backed up by strict GHG emission regulations, will reduce environmental impact and increase shipping’s overall effectiveness.

The path to reducing GHG emissions by 2050 will indeed be complex, require substantial planning, and require collective efforts from the stakeholders. Although it may be challenging at first, all efforts will result in significant positive changes in our national shipping sector over the coming decades. Malaysia’s aspirations to become a green hub provider of maritime green energy in the future will benefit the country as a whole.

Photo credit: iStock/ Ian Tompkins

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