The Paris Agreement, signed at the end of 2015, set down the ambition to limit global temperature change to 1.5°C. Tristan Smith, a London-based researcher who specialises in low carbon shipping, explains how and why shipping companies need to start preparing for decarbonisation now … before it’s too late.

Words: Alannah Eames, Photos: Private / Scanpix / Wilhelmsen

Fueled by his love of the sea and with a background in naval architecture, Dr. Tristan Smith, researcher and lecturer at University College London, has worked for over 15 years in the maritime and shipping industry. He believes the Paris Agreement is a step in the right direction.

“It is very positive because it was scientifically derived,ambitious and widely supported, at least in Paris. I was very surprised that the 1.5-degree-Celsius ambition came through because everyone was focused on two degrees.”

Dr Tristan Smith giving his CEMLEF Seminar lecture -The global freight shipping system and its future energy demand, efficiency and sustainability.

Dr Tristan Smith giving his CEMLEF Seminar lecture -The global freight shipping system and its future energy demand, efficiency and sustainability.

So, what does the Paris deal mean for shipping? Unfortunately, after much debate, shipping was left out of the Agreement, a disappointment for many.

“The Agreement will filter down to the industry via organisations like the IMO (International Maritime Organization),” says Smith.

“Shipping has an obligation to do something substantial to hold the temperature rise well below two degrees, otherwise it will not be achieved.”

There is no time to waste. Shipping companies, he warns, must start preparing now for two things: decarbonisation and a new regulatory framework.

“Unfortunately, no shipping company has really figured out what decarbonisation means,” Smith says.

“Wilhelmsen, for example, has done some thinking already on this topic with the Orcelle (concept vessel) but many companies don’t have a plan. By 2020, a lot of this transition process will have to have started and nobody is on track.”

For shipping to contribute to the Paris Agreement ambition, it must decarbonise, according to Smith. Energy efficiency, or reducing the use of sulphur in fuel, will not be enough. It’s not going to happen overnight:

“If we had gone for the two degree path in Paris, we would have had to reduce the emissions of each ship by 80 to 90% by 2050 (based on 2012 emissions) but achieving 1.5°C will be even harder.”

Smith has studied the energy sector during the course of his research. He compares the shift from coal (singled out in Paris) that the electricity generation industry has made to the transition that the shipping industry may now have to make.

“Twenty years ago, coal was a dominant form of power generation. Today, everyone is increasingly using alternative sources such as gas, renewables and nuclear. The shipping industry needs to figure out how to reduce its emissions to avoid becoming a ‘coal-type’ industry in the future.”

Nationality: British
Education: MEng and MA in mechanical engineering; M.Sc. and PhD in naval architecture from University College London
Research: Specializes in low carbon shipping and the development and implementation of technologies and operational practices for the reduction of CO2 emissions from shipping.
Current position: Reader (lecturer) at University College London, founder UMAS
Hobbies: Sailing, design and architecture

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Per Brinchmann, vice president technical, WWASA comments on what the Paris Agreement on Climate change means for the Wilhelmsen group.

“We are actively studying other industries to find solutions for the future. It is true that the shipping industry is slow to implement new technology, partly due to its conservative attitude. Shifting to new technology brings human, technical and financial risks, which have to be controlled and justified. We are prepared to take these risks as long as we can find viable solutions.

The real challenge for us in deep sea shipping is the huge amount of energy needed to sail our large vessels over long distances. Shifting to batteries is not an option due to the size and weight of the systems on board our vessels, while solar and wind won’t provide enough energy.

The Orcelle project is our vision for zero emissions. We aim to become ‘carbon neutral’ by 2040 and shift to new energy sources. Fuel efficiency and emission reductions will always be top of our agenda, but unless we find new types of energy, we will only make small steps in achieving this.

Together with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, we are actively searching for new energy carriers – such as hydrogen, different types of bio-fuels, and maybe, there will be new and safer types of nuclear systems in the future – that will take us there. But, it’s not an easy task.

Following the Paris Agreement, the road towards decarbonised shipping is open. How to get there, we do not know yet. We hope that the IMO will agree on fair, practicable and predictable regulations. Then, we, in WW, can take to the road and bring our industry forward into the carbon neutral world. We look forward to some exciting and challenging years of development.”

Nationality: Norwegian
Education: M.Sc. Naval architect and marine engineer
Current position: Vice president technical, Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA
Hobbies: model railroading, playing the drums, bicycling, and playing with his grandchildren.







was signed at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Paris from November 30 to December 12, 2015. All parties agreed to take measures to try to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C per year.

The final Agreement will be signed by all parties by April 2017 and the parties will have to adopt it within their own legal systems. No detailed timetable or country-specific goals for emissions were incorporated into the Paris Agreement – as opposed to the previous Kyoto Protocol. But, according to some scientists, this 1.5 °C goal will require zero emissions sometime between 2030 and 2050.