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Kenya takes a giant stride towards decarbonising shipping sector

Over the past several years, Kenya has carved a niche for herself as a lead champion in calling for increased global efforts toward combating the adverse effects of climate change.

From ratifying international treaties on the protection of the environment to spearheading campaigns to plant billions of trees, Kenya is being cited as a beacon of resilience in a world beset by unprecedented climatic challenges.

Despite such strides, danger looms large. In her bid to revamp the economy by tapping into the vast potential in the ocean and inland water bodies under the Blue Economy sector, the risk of pollution of marine ecosystems and degradation of the delicate maritime environment has become amplified.

Such risks range from oil spillages, dumping of toxic waste, littering, and air pollution through the emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) by ships’ Internal Combustion Engines (ICE).

The State Department for Shipping and Maritime Affairs Principal Secretary Shedrack Mwadime says the government is fully aware of the dangers of marine pollution by ships and other actors in the oceanic economy.

Mwadime adds that Kenya is committed to tackling such issues through the enactment of relevant policies to offer guidance in regard to eradicating or minimising practices detrimental to the well-being of the marine environment.

He notes that as the country embarks on capital-intensive investment in the shipping industry to maximise returns from the marine sector, the threats posed by oceanic pollution looms large. This, he adds, calls for enactment of relevant and practical laws to effectively address such risks.

“Kenya is promoting the use of clean energy that is eco-friendly. This same approach is being embraced in the maritime sector to tackle the risks of pollution because we want to promote a healthy marine environment,” he explains.

To address the issue of pollution in the marine sector, the government is currently validating a reviewed National Maritime Transport Policy. Once finalized and adopted, the policy will become the operational blueprint guiding the country’s maritime transport industry. It will, amongst other issues, address the sustainable exploitation of the Blue Economy while enhancing and promoting safety for both human resources and marine environment.

One key strategy entrenched in the policy is the focus on maritime environment protection through pushing for decarbonisation. Decarbonisation entails removal or reduction of the volumes of carbon dioxide emitted to the environment by ships through adoption of clean energy or low-carbon energy sources.

Shipping statistics show that over 80 percent of the global trade volumes is carried over the oceans and seas. In Kenya alone, 90 percent of the international trade is done over the ocean making the maritime transport sector contribute approximately Sh73 billion to the economy. Fisheries pump in an additional Sh48.8 billion.

While this data points to the centrality of shipping in global trade, the risk of pollution from ships’ emissions remains a matter of grave concern for domestic and international policymakers

Currently, the shipping industry contributes three percent of the Greenhouse Gases emissions globally. This is blamed on the heavy use of marine fuels and other heavy oils by the ships.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) aims to reduce the average carbon dioxide emission per ship by 70 percent by 2050 as well as reduce by half the emission of GHG by 2050.

In Kenya, the reduction of emission from ships and the push towards decarbonisation is expected to herald a new era in shipping transport where the use of green energy will be embraced by key players in the sector.

PS Mwadime disclosed that his department was in talks with marine researchers and tech innovators at Jomo Kenyatta University for Science and Technology (JKUAT) on how hydrogen and ammonia can be processed into fuels for ships to replace the highly polluting heavy oil fuels.

“Hydrogen and ammonia are sources of clean energy. We hope our innovators will have a breakthrough and allow the switching of such products to powering ships operating in our waters and beyond,” he said.

With a coastal length of 600km and a maritime area that is approximately 370km from shore deep into the ocean, the need to adopt a clean pollution-free propulsion for vessels navigating this massive ocean space becomes paramount.

The hunt for more efficient and cleaner energy sources in the shipping sector is not only confined to Kenya. The trend has gained traction internationally with countries racing to invest in research on clean energy. The European Union through its OPTIWISE project is funding firms to modify the conventional ships’ design to make for easy-switching to pollution-free energy sources and attain a carbon-neutral status.

In Spain, Bound4blue, a Barcelona-based innovation company, is promoting eSAIL technology; a wind-based propulsion system for cargo and passenger ships. Already, the company had entered into partnerships with financial groups to market this technology to shipping lines in Greece and Cyprus.

The maritime transport policy in Kenya will also allow for partnerships with financial institutions to allocate money for firms and institutions investing in research supporting clean energy. Other areas supported by the policy include enhancement of surveillance to monitor the marine environment, waste management, and designing of a national oil spill contingency plan.

Some other sources of clean energy that can reduce emissions from ships are liquified natural gas (LNG) tidal, solar, wind and dry-cell batteries. To discourage pollution, some countries are pushing for the creation of carbon-neutral ports. Ships will be compelled to switch to clean energy sources while docked in those ports or face severe penalties. Countries spearheading this initiative include Finland, Japan, and Netherlands.

By Wagema Mwangi

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