Revelations from IEEE Session on Maritime Sustainability at UNGA78 Science Summit


At September’s UNGA78 Science Summit, IEEE organized a session on maritime sustainability. Titled “Opportunities: Renewable Oceans and Sustainable Maritime Industry Initiatives”, the session focused on marine-based carbon dioxide removal (mCDR) and sustainable shipping and port solutions to reduce the environmental impact of the maritime industry.

IEEE President Saifur Rahman opened the session, noting the importance of oceans in the context of climate change. Oceans play a significant role in absorbing a large portion of excess heat from greenhouse gasses and redistributing it around the planet. They also act as a carbon sink, absorbing vast amounts of CO2. However, as the oceans warm due to climate change, their capacity to absorb CO2 is affected. This warming also impacts weather patterns, making events like hurricanes more destructive due to the increased moisture in the atmosphere. The increased severity of hurricanes is an example of how ocean warming intensifies the impact of climatic events. Rahman also highlighted the work of the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society (OES).

The first panel, “Opportunities: Ocean-Climate Solutions” was comprised of the following IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society (OES) members:

  • Christopher Whitt, President IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society (OES)
  • Giulia de Masi, IEEE WIE (Women in Engineering) Propel Laureate for the Oceanic Engineering Society, Principal Scientist, Technology Innovation Institute, Abu Dhabi, UAE
  • Romany Webb, Deputy Director, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Climate, Columbia Climate School, Research Scholar, Columbia Law School
  • Adam V. Subhas, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Matthew Eisaman, Associate Professor, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Yale University
  • Will Burt, Chief Ocean Scientist, Planetary Technologies, Adjunct Professor (FGS) – Department of Oceanography – Dalhousie University

The panel focused on marine carbon dioxide removal as a solution to ocean sustainability. Earth’s oceans absorb a quarter to a third of all CO2 emissions, land takes up a similar proportion and the remainder stays in the atmosphere. Panelists emphasized that the ocean is actively affected by human-induced changes, including warming and chemical alterations like ocean acidification caused by CO2 absorption.

Panelists also noted that to combat the worst effects of climate change, the world needs to follow a specific trajectory of emissions reductions over the next century. Conventional solutions like renewable energy sources and efficient energy distribution are part of the solution. However, the active removal of CO2 from the atmosphere must also be considered.

The deep ocean holds vast potential for carbon storage and could store more carbon than land or the atmosphere. Various techniques are being explored to manage carbon in the ocean, from biological solutions like seaweed farming and nutrient fertilization to chemical methods that focus on altering seawater’s acid-base chemistry.

To make progress, private and public sectors need to fund research and development. Presently, the private sector’s commitment, driven mainly by the voluntary carbon market, surpasses that of governments. We need more international cooperation and transparency to ensure the success of these efforts. The ocean’s dynamic nature means monitoring carbon storage will be a challenge, necessitating robust measurement and observation networks.

Overall, ocean-based CO2 removal is a promising but complex avenue in the fight against climate change. Innovations are being developed by startup technology companies such as the Yale Center, which focuses on enhancing natural solutions for carbon capture, specifically ocean and geological capture. Another startup, Planetary, focuses on active carbon removal and ocean deacidification.

Panelists observed that current governance frameworks and international agreements are inadequate. This includes the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the London Convention and Protocol that indirectly touch on topics related to mCDR. Resolutions under these conventions take a skeptical stance on mCDR and impose restrictions on its research and implementation. For example, a decision by the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010 emphasized restricting geoengineering activities due to their potential impact on biodiversity, with exceptions for small-scale research in controlled settings. This creates a dichotomy between global climate and ocean governance regimes.

There is still much to be done by governments in partnership with the private sector to enable ocean-based carbon dioxide removal. Education and effective communication are crucial, ensuring that scientific information and findings are accessible to policymakers and the public.

While there is a lot of potential in emerging technologies for carbon removal, it is essential to ensure environmental safety, engage the public, and establish ethical and legal frameworks to oversee their deployment.

A second panel during the session, “Sustainable Maritime – Decarbonization via electrification in marine transportation”, was organized by the IEEE Sustainable Maritime Industry Connections Activity under the IEEE PES Maritime Systems. Dr. John Prousalidis, Professor at National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), School of Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering (S-NAME) moderated this session.

Panelists included:

  • Leonidas Demetriades-Eugenidis, President of Eugenides Foundation
  • Ricardo Batista, European Commission – Directorate General for Mobility and Transport, Brussels – Belgium
  • Zeno D’Agostino, President of the Ports of Trieste and Monfalcone – President of ESPO
  • Dr. Alex Papalexopoulos, President & CEO of ECCO International Inc., CEO and Chairman of the Board ZOME Energy Networks, Inc.

During this discussion, panelists placed a strong emphasis on sustainable maritime and port initiatives, including decarbonizing marine transportation through electrification. They provided real-world examples of efforts to promote ocean sustainability. However, they also emphasized the considerable challenges that the global maritime sector faces in its pursuit of sustainability.

The shipping industry is actively adopting measures to decrease its carbon footprint. Some of these measures include implementing greenhouse gas treatment methods, using alternative fuels, and introducing innovative machinery and storage procedures.

Ports are vital to this transformation. For example, at the port of Trieste in Italy, electricity is seen as a pivotal alternative fuel. It forms the foundation for numerous decarbonization projects. For ports to fully embrace this transformation, steps such as fortifying a resilient grid, incorporating energy storage systems, and investing in smaller-scale projects like photovoltaic systems and batteries are crucial.

Panelists also noted the importance of a holistic approach when addressing the environmental challenges in the maritime sector. The entire supply chain, from shipping to ports, requires a coordinated strategy. Collaboration between various stakeholders in academia, industry, and governments is vital. Funding research to decrease the industry’s carbon footprint is crucial.

But no one solution can handle all the challenges. A multidisciplinary approach is needed. Technology plays a pivotal role, especially onshore power technology, which can mitigate emissions and noise at ports. Beyond electrifying the ship-to-shore interface, other targets for electrification include cargo handling, and the incorporation of more renewables within ports. This will help drive increased sustainability, resilience, and energy justice.

However, many challenges remain, including the need for a clear regulatory framework for grid and offshore power, charging infrastructure for electric ships, and upfront costs of electrifying maritime vessels. Also needed is education and training for those operating electrified infrastructure and vessels.

Electrical engineering plays a critical role in addressing some of these challenges, providing expertise and technology to bring more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices to maritime transportation.

On a broader scale, the European Commission’s “Fit for 55” package underscores the importance of onshore power supply in the EU’s decarbonization objectives. This legislation covers the European Clean Deal and strategies to address greenhouse gas emissions reductions, sheds light on regulatory support and potential implementation hurdles. As the sector evolves, policies like this and one expected from the European Public Policy Committee will be pivotal in guiding ports towards smarter and more sustainable operations.

Share this Article