In January, new mandates handed down from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an arm of the United Nations that writes and enforces global maritime regulations, go into effect concerning sulfur emissions from ships.
The new regulations are expected to affect around 60,000 ships currently in service. These ships will be required to reduce their sulfur emissions by more than 80%. The most common way shippers intend to meet the target is by employing new low-sulfur fuel mixes, some of which are still under development. Other shipping companies are considering installing an exhaust cleaning kit called a scrubber. Similar to what is currently used in factories to clean particulates from their exhaust, the scrubbers will strip sulfur emissions from dirtier fuel. Though this seems like an optimal solution it is extremely expensive, costing from $1 million to $6 million per kit.
A study from Finnish equipment manufacturer Wartsila, SEB Bank and shipping industry analyst Alpha Tanker states that by the beginning of next year more than 2,000 ships will have these scrubbers. But when put in the context of the global fleet, which numbers around 90,000 ships, the number is minute. Altogether these changes are expected to cost the industry around $50 billion in the next few years.
The push for cleaner shipping is not just coming from the globalist United Nations. Last week JPMorgan joined a group of other banks that includes Citigroup and French multinational Societe Generale in stating that it will now consider environmental and climate issues when deciding whether to issue loans to shippers. The group has formed a lending framework called the Poseidon Principles that seeks to push money to environmentally friendly ships. So far the banks that have signed up to restrict financing for nonconforming shipping companies form a portfolio of around $100 billion within the industry, which accounts for about a quarter of the global ship financing market.
As per usual in regard to global environmental agreements, the largest polluters in the world, the Chinese, have not agreed to participate in the scheme. Chinese banks control about a quarter of all ship finance and possess more than half of global shipbuilding capacity. In 2017, more than 235 million 20-foot containers came out of China. This number accounted for nearly a third of global container traffic. To put it into context, the next country on that list was the United States, which sent out less than one-fourth the amount of twenty-foot equivalent units at 51.4 million TEUs. Though it hasn’t done so yet, it is expected that China will create a regulatory system similar to the Poseidon Principles in the next few years.
Some experts argue that as of now, the shipping industry is ill-prepared for the new mandate. Currently, the global shipping fleet uses around 4 million barrels per day of heavy fuel oil (HFO), which will be banned on Jan. 1. Norway’s SEB bank is predicting that 75% of the demand for HFO will disappear the next day.
Shifts to sweet crude are expected due to the fact that it is easier to refine and because it has less sulfur than the crude currently used for most shipping called sour crude. This could cause a large shift in the demand for sweet crude, introducing a higher premium for other items refined from sweet crude, including jet fuel and diesel. A bidding war for sweet crude is expected as such large demand will push the prices up. Roughly 90% of all trade done in the world is done by sea.
The environmental regulations are sure not to stop with the IMO 2020 sulfur mandate. Insiders in the shipping industry fully expect new regulations to require ships to run on biofuels and hydrogen power in the future, although these models will probably take years to develop and catch on in the fleet.
In addition to cutting sulfur emissions, the IMO has set guidelines for ships to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and 50% by 2050. China is now the world’s largest producer of these byproducts, last year putting more carbon dioxide into the air than the United States and the European Union combined at over 9 billion cubic tons to the United States’ 5 billion cubic tons and the European Union’s 3.5 billion cubic tons.