MSC Suggests Carbon Offsetting as Early Shipping Decarbonisation Measure

by Jack Jordan, Managing Editor, Ship & Bunker
Monday June 15, 2020

Container line the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has suggested its customers pay for carbon offsetting to help with the process of reaching climate neutrality.

The company is expanding to all its customers a scheme in conjunction with climate solutions provider South Pole to pay to negate the carbon emissions incurred in their use of its ships by investing in projects that reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it said in an emailed statement Monday.

The move is an unusual foray into carbon offsetting for the shipping industry, which thus far in its decarbonisation journey has largely focused on developing alternative fuels.

"MSC clients are given the opportunity to contribute to projects that not only mitigate global CO2 emissions, but also improve lives on the ground in communities in China and Zimbabwe – from the development of cleaner energy and to combating poverty, improving skills and ensuring food security," Natalia Gornina, commercial director at South Pole, said in the statement.

The Alternative to Alternative Fuels?

More widespread use of these schemes would be highly convenient for the shipping industry -- allowing it to pay for carbon offsetting on land in order to continue burning conventional bunkers and avoid upending its marine fuel supply chain -- but environmental campaigners have in the past been skeptical over the efficacy of similar schemes.

"Most offset schemes have been shown not to work," one campaigner told Ship & Bunker Monday.

"Mostly because the projects in them would have gone ahead anyway, so buying the cheap little 'carbon credit' attached made no difference."

Perverse Incentives

Research published by Germany's Institute for Applied Ecology in 2016 argued similar schemes might slow down progress in decarbonisation.

"International crediting mechanisms involve an inherent and unsolvable dilemma: either they might create perverse incentives for policy makers in host countries not to implement policies or regulations to address GHG emissions – since this would reduce the potential for international crediting – or they credit activities that are not additional because they are implemented due to policies or regulations," the paper's authors wrote. 

But for its part, MSC is not offering its scheme in isolation; the company has already taken significant steps towards introducing biofuels into its marine fuel mix, and in Monday's release said it was investigating multiple alternatives.

"The programme complements MSC's strategic approach to sustainability and massive investment in reducing emissions across its fleet," MSC said.

"Furthermore, MSC is actively exploring and trialling a range of alternative fuel and propulsion technologies to support the container shipping industry's long-term goals to decarbonise."