BOOK REVIEW – Sustainable Shipping: A Cross Disciplinary View

By Harilaos N Psaraftis, Springer, 2019, 500 pages, EUR 96.29

e-ISBN: 978-3-030-04330-8

Traditionally, shipping has been considered as a ‘hard-to-abate’ sector owing to the nature of its operations and the complexity of appropriating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to countries.  It was one of two such sectors — the other being aviation — to be excluded from the Paris climate agreement.  Shipping currently accounts for about three per cent of the total global GHG emissions. These figures are estimated to reach ten per cent if no efforts are taken to reduce the industry’s impact on the climate.  Harilaos N Psaraftis’ Sustainable Shipping: A Cross Disciplinary View explores solutions to reduce the shipping industry’s carbon footprint by compiling the viewpoints of several authors from allied sectors, but with strong linkages to the shipping industry.

The book comprises 13 chapters, four of which are authored by Psaraftis.  The author and editor, who has a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute Technology (MIT), is a Professor at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).  His experience includes membership of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) and an advisor for many private organisations.  This rich experience is reflected in the manner in which the book holistically covers the entire spectrum of shipping operations.  The first chapter sets the stage by explaining the concept of sustainability in general: how can it be applied to make shipping sustainable? what are the policy issues and trade-offs? And, how might they affect the variety of stakeholders of this sector?  The initial chapters of the book mainly review various technical innovations for de-carbonisation and reducing GHG emissions, while also explaining the regulations for the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI).  The EEDI is a technical measure aimed at promoting the use of more efficient equipment and engines.  Although the treatment of EEDI is extensive, the author does not present any original work in these chapters and they primarily serve as a literature review.  Further, the chapter on technological innovations for reducing emissions is fairly superficial and could have done with a more in-depth analysis.  Since every chapter is actually a separate research paper, the chapter-introductions follow a common theme of explanations, covering sustainability, shipping and their associated regulations.  Repetitions, such as these, betray a lack of effort by the editor and publisher, and impair the reader’s ability to understand specific contexts.

In Chapter 4, however, the editor moves away from emissions-reduction and highlights how Information and Communication Technology (ICT) could make shipping more energy-efficient.  Chapter 5, which deals with oil pollution from ships, is probably the most impressive and data-intensive chapter of the book.  It begins by tracing the history of oil-pollution from ships and the manner in which it has influenced the formulation of various IMO and European Union (EU) regulations designed to prevent further incidents, as also to provide fair compensation to victims of oil-pollution incidents.  The treatment of Risk Control Options (RCO) and their implementation is particularly insightful as this information is not easily available in the public domain.  In Chapter 6, while addressing the regulations for ship-recycling, namely the Hong Kong Convention of 2009, the author is highly sceptical and critical of the various non-governmental organisations (that routinely lobby the EU for more stringent recycling practices) by citing their lack of industry knowledge.  Unsurprisingly, Psaraftis argues that stringent regulations could dissuade ship owners from recycling old, polluting ships.  The next few chapters are highly technical in nature, with several mathematical models, all of which are explained in great detail.  These chapters discuss how more stringent sulphur regulations could increase GHG emissions by causing a modal shift from a sea-based to a land-based transportations system.  The models provide methods to calculate such a shift and to measure the efficacy of measures to reverse such a shift.

In the chapters on Operational and Tactical Measures, such as route- and speed optimisation, weather-routing, etc., the author is against the implementation of regulations for speed limitations to reduce emissions.  He argues that a lower speed will require more services on the same route to keep the supply chain moving.  The resulting possible losses for perishable items and time sensitive cargo makes slow-steaming undesirable.  The chapter also presents mathematical models dealing with fleet-management and problems relating to liner and tramp shipping operations.  These are dealt-with in great detail.  The final chapters of the book cover Market Based Measures (MBM), such as bunker-levy and the inclusion of shipping emissions in carbon markets, such as the EU’s Emission Trading System (ETS).  The author makes a good case for imposing a significant bunker levy by highlighting that for shipowners to implement fuel consumption-reducing technologies voluntarily, the Marginal Abatement Cost (MAC) must be negative.  This means that the ship owners must see an economic advantage in implementing the new measures.  The adoption of such measures is only possible if the cost of fuel is higher than it currently is.  The author’s own experience in attending the IMO’s MEPC meetings can be gauged from Chapter 11, where he provides ‘off-the-record’ insights on the position of some countries with respect to the various MBMs.  Chapter 12 deals with the concept of ‘green ports’ and how various technologies, such as cold ironing — that, the use of shore-based power for ships in ports and docks — can be used to reduce emissions from ships as an alternative to the running of shipboard generators.

In the concluding chapter (The way ahead) he critiques the IMO’s “Initial GHG Strategy” of 2018, which calls upon the shipping industry to reduce GHG emissions to 50% by the year 2050.  The chapter includes a section on alternate ship-fuels.  However, the topic deserves an entire chapter of its own as a truly significant reduction in emissions is only possible by switching to greener fuels such as ammonia or hydrogen.  In this section, the author is highly critical of the so-called, transitional fuels such as Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), by citing the latest scientific literature.   This literature shows that lifecycle GHG emissions of LNG are much higher than those of conventional liquid fuels such as diesel.  Swimming against the tide, the author takes up a position against the principle of CBDR-RC (Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities), a landmark principle that purports to ensure a fair and just transition without putting the Developing and Least Developed Countries at a disadvantage.  Psaraftis explains his position by stating that CBDR-RC is in direct conflict with another IMO principle i.e., no more-favourable treatment and is the single major obstacle for any progress on maritime GHG emission reduction.

This much-needed book has many praiseworthy elements.  For one thing, it is the probably the only book available that encompasses the entire domain of sustainable shipping.  Psaraftis has included a lot of his original research, as well as hard-to-find information such as mathematical models, which provides the book with meaningful technical underpinnings.  The author does not shy from taking a stand on controversial issues, even though the book itself is aimed more at providing facts rather than passing judgements or making opinions.  Psaraftis has done a very commendable job in stitching together a book covering a wide range of topics, even though it is not without its shortcomings.  The chapters are in no particular order and do not follow any predetermined logic flow.  A better format would have been to club all the chapters that are more technical in nature, together.  Some chapters, like “Green Ship Technologies” lack depth.  Technologies like propulsion-efficiency improvement-devices and wind-based propulsion are given just a cursory introduction (with no in-depth analysis).  On the other hand, the chapters on the tactical and operational measures are comprehensive but require a fair knowledge of mathematical modelling.

The book is of particular relevance to an Indian audience.  Although the Government of India’s Maritime India Vision 2030 (MIV-2030) has been lauded for its outlook on ‘green ports’, it is severely lacking in depth and ambition as far as sustainable shipping is concerned.  Psaraftis’s book is tough, yet honest, and his take on LNG as a chimaera instead of a truly clean fuel should serve as a warning for Indian policymakers, since the country is poised to transition to a gas-based economy in the coming decades.

While there are many gainful insights for a wide audience, from a casual reader to policy-makers, the author might have done better to have fixed the target audience more narrowly, or, written multiple books for different audiences, so as to make reading the book a more pleasurable experience.  Psaraftis does not mention the many commitments made by shipping companies themselves to achieve net-zero status.   For instance, Maersk, the largest container shipping company in the world, has pledged to achieve net-zero status by 2050, with the first net-zero ship which would be powered by bio-methanol coming out as early as 2023.  Goals like these are way ahead of the IMO’s ambitions.  However, the overall feeling generated by the book is one of resignation and hopelessness at the failure to make shipping less GHG-intensive.  Citing the IMO’s inadequate ambition and the absence of clear pathways to reduce GHG emissions, the editor certainly does not seem optimistic about the future.  Finally, as one outs down the book, one is certainly wiser, but finds oneself somewhat regretting the fact that the author has explained the problem rather than presenting concrete solutions.


About the Reviewer:

Mr Sudarshan Pawar, at the time of writing this review, was an intern in the six-month variant of the NMF’s SUMMER 2021 internship programme.  He may be contacted at


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