Cruise industry fights against new UN CO2 rules

Imagine a cruise ship. Not just a ferry, but a massive floating resort filled with roller coasters, fine dining, and Broadway-style shows. These huge ships are used for entertainment and travel from port to port, allowing tourists to discover new places every day. Now imagine if someone judged this cruise ship the same way they would judge a cargo ship or a car carrier. Sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? That’s essentially the argument cruise lines are making against the United Nations’ new emissions regulations.

This is essentially what is happening in the world of maritime regulations. Earlier this year, a new rule was introduced by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – the United Nations umbrella organization of the shipping world. Known as the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII), this rule rates ships based on their carbon emissions versus the amount of “transport work” they do.

Calculating the “transport work” gets a bit complicated, but here is a simplified version. For ships such as cargo ships or passenger ferries, the aim is to measure the CO2 emissions in relation to the total weight of the ship and the distance traveled.

However, cruise ships do not travel long distances and spend a lot of time in port. CLIA (the Cruise Lines International Association) argues that the current metric does not take into account the uniqueness of cruise lines. Unlike other ships, cruise ships are not just a means of transport, but floating holiday destinations. A large portion of their electricity consumption is used for hotel-like services, such as powering entertainment venues or preparing gourmet meals.

Additionally, cruise ships often dock in ports for much of their time, allowing tourists to explore the area. However, the current CII rule penalizes this idle time as it does not include travel distance. CLIA argues that ships’ CO2 emissions are lower when they are in port than when they are underway.

What does it all amount to? CLIA believes that the existing regime creates an unfair incentive for ships to shorten their port time and sail longer distances just to score better on CII, even if it results in higher overall emissions.

Here is a practical example. Imagine the fastest and most efficient cruise ship in the fleet. But it operates on a route with short distances between port calls and spends a lot of time in dock. According to the current CII equation, this ship would fare poorly even if cruise lines installed the most carbon efficient systems available. Carnival Corp (the world’s largest owner and operator of cruise lines) has proposed a different approach. Rather than assessing individual ships, they want the IMO to assess the carbon intensity of entire fleets.

In addition, CLIA claims that an onshore power supply (OPS) or “shore power” connected to renewable energy sources such as offshore wind energy could significantly reduce the carbon footprint of cruise ships that spend a lot of time in dock. With this, the ship would use local power grids to power its operations in port, which would significantly reduce emissions.

However, this matter is complicated and numerous hurdles need to be overcome before this solution can be fully implemented. First, environmental groups might argue that these proposed changes merely create more loopholes in an already lenient regulatory regime. Other obstacles include securing the necessary funding for fully renewable shore power, overcoming regulatory limitations and overcoming the challenge of standardizing a solution across a variety of vessel types.

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