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“Difficult to abate”: the growth of new fuels in aviation and shipping

Shipping emissions have proven difficult to abate. (Credit: GreenOak via Shutterstock)

Posted on October 16, 2023

Transport by air and sea depends on engines that usually run on fossil fuels, increasing CO₂ emissions. Even though road transport emissions remain more significant, shipping and aviation account for 12% and 11%, respectively, according to an analysis by GlobalData, Offshore Technology Focus’s parent company.

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) aviation tracking data found that around half of the year-on-year oil emissions increase came from the aviation industry. The industry also accounted for 2% of global energy-related CO₂ emissions in 2022. This follows significantly lower demands in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Post-pandemic CO₂ emissions have now reached 800 million tonnes (Mt), almost 80% of pre-pandemic levels. Direct CO₂ emissions from fossil fuel combustion plummeted to less than 600 Mt of CO₂ emissions in 2020, whereas emissions in 2019 reached 1000 Mt.

According to the IEA, international shipping also accounted for 2% of global energy-related CO₂ emissions in 2022, growing by 5% after a continued rebound from a decline in 2020. Right now, emissions are back to 2017-2018 levels.

As Europeans looked for ways to cut gas consumption following the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a rise in coal use increased emissions and more than offset the 1.6% decline in natural gas emissions. Emissions from oil grew by 2.5%, while still not yet reaching the pre-pandemic levels.

Demand growth for renewables in transport, especially electric vehicles, continues to grow, but still, the aviation and maritime sectors have yet to see real progress in decarbonising. Francesca Gregory, GlobalData’s energy transition analyst, said: “Despite lofty emission reduction targets, both the aviation and maritime sectors are firmly off track of their pathways for decarbonisation, according to the IEA.

“High energy density requirements for long-distance travel are the key barrier to the replacement of conventional fuels, granting these two heavy transport sectors a reputation for being among the most difficult to decarbonise.”


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