New ship designs less fuel-efficient than those built in 1990

New ships are on average less fuel-efficient than those built in 1990, according to the first ever study of the historical development of the design efficiency of new ships. A second study also found many recently-constructed ships already meet the International Maritime Organisation’s design efficiency standard for 2020 (EEDI), which is up for review when the IMO meets next week. Both documents suggest that more stringent efficiency standards are within reach.

A study by CE Delft commissioned by T&E and Seas At Risk found that the most recent design efficiency data indicates new ships built in 2013 were on average 10% less fuel-efficient than those built a quarter of a century ago. The second study found the majority of container and general cargo ships built between 2009-2014 already meet the IMO’s Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) standards set for 2020.

Bulk carriers, tankers, and container ships built in 2013 were on average 12, 8 and 8% less fuel-efficient than those built in 1990. The findings contradict the shipping industry’s narrative that it has been constantly improving its environmental performance. Market forces failed to result in more fuel-efficient ships being built. Oil prices in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the time when new ships were historically most fuel efficient, were around a quarter of the levels seen in the 2008-2013 period.

Bill Hemmings, T&E clean shipping manager, said: ‘The truth is out! Aircraft and cars have become more fuel efficient, but despite a generation of technological improvements, ships have largely gone backwards for most of the past 25 years. The IMO’s design efficiency standard for new ships itself needs a redesign and strengthening if the standard is not supposed to merely bring us back to levels achieved 25 years ago.’

Meanwhile, transparent data that identifies the most efficient ships and practices must, for the first time, be made available to shipping users under a law just approved by the European Parliament. In what T&E described as a stepping stone to CO2 targets, public disclosure of such data will spur competition for the best ships and routes, which in turn will trigger market forces that will result in fuel savings.

The Monitoring Reporting and Verification (MRV) law will require ship operators to publicly report on fuel efficiency and environmental performance, something which cargo owners and ship operators have sought to aid their commercial decisions. Full access to this data for the public, policy makers and industry stakeholders will also help rectify information asymmetry, division of the shipping market to information ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, and distortions of competition.

But T&E say a CO2 reduction target for shipping at EU and international level is urgently needed. Any fuel efficiency improvements will be offset by the increase in transport demand, according to the IMO’s latest greenhouse gas (GHG) study which projects a 50 to 250% rise in shipping emissions by 2050.

Sotiris Raptis, clean shipping officer at T&E, said: ‘This law is expected to produce a virtuous circle of increased transparency, increased competition and greater fuel efficiency. But this is where our cheering stops. Given that the sector’s rapid growth is set to outstrip efficiency gains, only CO2 targets under the EU’s 2030 plan and Energy Union can deliver actual emissions cuts.’

Currently ships are responsible for over 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If these emissions were reported as a country, maritime transport would be Europe’s eighth largest emitter. According to the latest IMO study on GHG emissions from ships, under a business-as-usual scenario, shipping could represent 10% of global GHG emissions by 2050.