Chilly Reality

Any day now Arctic sea-ice is going to hit its lowest extent for the year, and once again it’s set to be one of the lowest years on record. Already a number of ships have safely traversed the northwest passage. Whilst some shipping benefits from this ice decline recent research indicates that the Arctic’s weakening icy grip will increase the risk of wet extremes over mid-latitude Eurasia and reduce the chances of cold extremes over central and eastern North America. Catastrophic events – floods, heat waves, fires and storms - become more likely. All of this negatively impacts existing eco-systems, production of food and will drastically alter our lifestyles.

With some 90% of world trade transported by sea the maritime industry is a major enabler of globalization and international trade. As a consequence, the industry’s response to the changing world economy is important to the future of growth and development all around the world.

The response to the risks posed by climate change to shipping and the global economy is becoming even more pressing. 7 out of 8 heads of political groups of the European Parliament’s environment committee have written to the Environment Ministers of the 28 EU countries urging them to include international shipping in the upcoming global climate deal at Paris. They wrote:

“To promote increased climate ambition international shipping requires an emissions reduction target.”

Meanwhile technology points excitedly at new discoveries to prove we can solve the awful challenges ahead of us. Recently IHI Corp. says it has been able to grow Botryococcus, a strain of algae that can deliver more than 50 percent of its dry weight in oil, easily, in an outdoor environment. IHI built a 1,500-square-meter facility earlier this year; its breakthrough in outdoor algae growth is significant, because, according to some sources, a hectare of algal culture is capable of producing 137,000 litres of oil annually. That’s equivalent to about 1000 barrels. The average American consumes 22 barrels a year, so now we’ve got 45 Americans who can carry on as usual. But this outdoor land, the hectares where we’ll grow the biofuels, isn’t that already being used to grow food? And with the changing climate threatening to disrupt existing agricultural activity there may not be enough land to go round.