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Researchers at University College London (UCL) say policy makers must properly assess the environmental trade-offs and costs in addition to the commercial benefits and opportunities in Arctic shipping.

The report’s authors also want to see more incentives to drive technological developments that will accelerate the uptake of green fuels and technologies.

Shorter Arctic shipping routes are already used by a handful of ships when areas of the Arctic ice melt during the summer. However, the period when these routes are navigable is predicted to extend with increases in global warming and, if warming fails to remain within the 1.5⁰C/2⁰C limit set out in the Paris agreement, the researchers warn permanent Arctic ice may be a thing of the past.

The research, published in Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, looked at the financial competitiveness of Arctic shipping, considering the impact of emissions from these vessels on the environment.

They looked at two policy scenarios, one being business-as-usual, where there is no policy on emissions, and the other operating under an Arctic specific zero-emissions policy, where ships which could run using energy from renewable sources were considered.

With residual-fuelled ships deemed ‘no longer feasible because of their contribution to greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions’, the experts concluded that, in the second scenario, green ammonia fuel cell ships are the ‘most commercially viable’. They also argue that policies which facilitate the introduction of such zero carbon fuels and zero emission technologies ‘should be encouraged’.

Lead author Joseph Lambert (UCL Energy Institute) said: ‘Significant change is under way in the Arctic region due to global warming and from a shipping perspective we should prepare for what this means through assessing all the opportunities, risks and trade-offs that aren’t exclusively financial.

‘These routes may become more financially competitive as global warming increases and Arctic ice retreats, but more factors must be considered. It is critical that the Arctic ice maintains its permanency - in order to stay within global warming targets and to protect the region’s ecology.’

Co-author Dr Tristan Smith (UCL Energy Institute), who supervised the research, added: ‘This is a novel work that shows the economic costs alongside the environmental costs for the Arctic route, as well as showing how certain technology choices, that could be incentivised through policy, could significantly reduce the environmental costs that would otherwise arise from Arctic shipping.

‘The paper shows a clear justification for governments to intervene now to prevent a melting Arctic’s enabling of a reduction in shipping costs because of further acceleration of the degradation of this crucial ecosystem.’

The researchers say impacts that need to be explored include the effects of ecological damage, and how policy can be structured to address the environmental concerns.

To view the study, click here.


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