Almost everything you consume, from your weekly supermarket trip to the presents you order online, arrives by cargo ship. Shipping is the engine of the world economy, transporting eleven billion tonnes of goods each year. Despite the clear environmental crisis, shipping emissions have doubled since 1990 to more than one billion tonnes of CO2 – more than aviation, more than all of Germany, or even France, Britain, and Italy combined. As the shipping industry is forecast to grow threefold by 2050, full decarbonisation is urgent to limit catastrophic climate change. To understand whether there are any realistic alternatives to the polluting status quo of the container shipping industry, in 2020, Christiaan De Beukelaer spent 150 days as part of a sailing crew aboard the Avontuur, a century-old two-masted schooner fitted for cargo. This book recounts both this personal odyssey and the journey the shipping industry is embarking on to cut its carbon emissions. It shows that the Avontuur’s mission remains as crucial as ever: the shipping industry needs to cut its use of fossil fuels as soon as possible. Otherwise, we will face excessive global warming and the dire outcomes that will bring. The book explores our path to an uncertain future. It argues that shipping symbolises the kind of economy we’ve built: a gargantuan global machine that delivers the goods at an enormous environmental cost. Merely eliminating carbon emissions or improving efficiency won’t solve the underlying issue. If we can’t make shipping truly sustainable, we can’t solve the climate crisis.
construction in France, Veer Voyage’s Dyna-rigged ship, and the Oceanbird project by
Wallenius Wilhelmsen and the Neoline are most advanced in their development.
These newer ‘primary windpropulsion’ initiatives mostly aim
to operate far more within the existing shipping industry, rather than create a parallel
market, by providing a tiny niche driven by shipping tiny amounts of luxury goods by sail. 10
Except the Canopée and TOWT’s ships, which should be in
the water by the time this book hits the shelves
of fuel move and so we completely avoid bunker adjustment factors and
we can take multi-year engagements without any terms of valuation on this aspect. And
that’s one of our selling points; to be able to give this kind of insurance. 20
This does not mean that windpropulsion is without
its problems, as Gavin Allwright, the Secretary-General of the International Windship
Association told me when we first met in London. ‘One problem with windpropulsion is
you can’t commodify it. So, you sell a
is needed per tonne-mile, the slower the transition will
Where does this leave windpropulsion? As the shipping industry turned to
fossil fuels, transport remained largely concentrated along trade winds routes. As a result,
there remains ‘a good alignment between the windier sea areas and the areas where
there is significant shipping activity.’ 41
When Jorne, Andreas, and Arjen founded Fairtransport to
set sail aboard the Tres Hombres in 2007, no one took windpropulsion seriously. More
than a decade
, inspired by the past. The
windpropulsion we see today isn’t the same as the windpropulsion of yesteryear. Nor
should it be. Windpropulsion follows the same basic principles, as the laws of physics have
not changed, but both technology and the global economy have changed beyond recognition. The
challenge today is finding ways to incorporate a century of advances in
materials, science, and yacht racing technology into a shipping industry that has focused on
the optimisation of vessels propelled by burning fossil fuels
. It also charts the journey the shipping industry must make
to cut its carbon emissions. Will the industry make the urgently needed shift away from
horrendously polluting, but frighteningly convenient, fossil fuels to emission-free
propulsion through a mix of windpropulsion and ‘zero-emission’ e-fuels? And in
doing so, will this meaningfully help mitigate the climate crisis that is rapidly unfolding?
I hope so, but I’m not sure it will.
Decarbonising the propulsion of ships is enormously important and urgent,
fund an energy transition for vulnerable
Third, adopt windpropulsion technologies to the greatest extent and scale
possible. This would include retrofitting the existing fleet with the technologies that can
help marginal gains across the board. Whether it’s a Flettner rotor, a rigid sail, or
a kite, anything that helps us bring down emissions immediately will help slow down our
inevitable exhaustion of the rapidly shrinking carbon budget. Given the urgency to take
climate action, especially in shipping
assessment cycle. This report focuses on mitigation, or what we can do to limit the damage.
The report suggests that technological options do exist to halve warming by 2030 and cut emissions further by 2050. For shipping, these technologies include e-fuels
made from green electricity and innovations such as air lubrication of hulls, more efficient
propellers, and of course a variety of windpropulsion technologies. It further acknowledges
that ‘efficiency improvements [in the shipping industry] can provide some
dangerously critical tipping points.
Before setting sail, Cornelius told me that he found ocean currents
increasingly unreliable. The trade winds on which sailing ships have relied since they
ventured out to sea may be changing because the oceans are changing. Some fear that age-old
water currents in the Atlantic Ocean have already undergone shifts that may indicate
they’re reaching or exceeding climactic tipping points. 18 The implications of changing wind and water patterns for
windpropulsion remain unclear.