Sharing of technology and knowledge, linking of science to policy termed necessary for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions of world shipping fleet and for adapting to climate change impacts
Geneva, 19 Feb. 2009 - Over 80% of world trade is carried in seaborne vessels, and while fuel combustion from their engines now contributes between 1.6 and 4.1% of global carbon dioxide emissions, steps should be taken to limit the climate-change impact of maritime transport, as such emissions may triple by 2050, experts said at a three-day UNCTAD meeting
Refinements of hull and vessel design, engines, propulsion systems, and operational measures, such as using optimal vessel speed for the world´s freight carriers, could significantly reduce emissions, marine engineers and economists noted. But they said true progress in facing climate change would come from anticipated future advances in energy use; from coordinating steps for dealing with climate change across a broad range of economic sectors; from sharing current knowledge and technology and new knowledge and technology as they become available; and from further study of the issue so that additional effective measures can be devised.
Dealing with climate change is a priority which should not be undermined by other concerns, including the current global economic and financial crisis, participants in the 16-18 February meeting said. The economic costs of climate change make steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the effects absolutely essential, they said. Under current rough estimates, human-caused alterations to the global climate may result in reductions of global gross domestic product (GDP) of anywhere from 5 to 20% per year, according to the British Government´s 2006 study of the subject, which is widely known as the Stern Review.
The UNCTAD meeting is the start of multi-year expert consideration of "transport and trade facilitation." The gathering was titled "Maritime transport and the climate change challenge."
"It is difficult to overstate the threat posed by climate change," UNCTAD Acting Deputy Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri said in an opening address on 16 Feb. "The current global economic crisis shows how a relatively small reduction of output, such as 1 or 2% of GDP, may already have considerable implications for trade, unemployment, and the overall well-being of societies. Against this background, it is difficult to contemplate the potential cost of inaction in relation to climate change."
Among suggestions made at the meeting were that further studies be conducted on the relationships between maritime transport and climate change -- including not only the impact of ship emissions but the impact of such factors as rising sea levels and more severe storms on transport infrastructure, including ports and coastline transport corridors. In this context, the international ports industry represented at the meeting indicated that they would consider whether to expand their ongoing work on mitigation to include issues related to impacts and adaptation.
Developing countries, which depend heavily on increased trade for achieving economic progress, are especially vulnerable to climate shifts and in many cases lack the resources that rich nations have for carrying out mitigation efforts, several experts told the meeting. Countries least responsible for past greenhouse-gas emissions are likely to suffer the most from climate change, speakers said. Broad efforts-- of which maritime transport is only a small part -- are needed to help such countries overcome the financial difficulties of facing climate change, they said, and national, regional, and international measures must be well-conceived and well-coordinated.
It also was noted that as climate-change research progresses rapidly and as the effects of climate change become more apparent, there is a need for policy-making to keep up with science -- that government decision-making, and decision-making by international organizations, should reflect the latest and best information.