The largest cruise company in the world, Carnival, has announced it “aspires” to be carbon-neutral by 2050, one of a list of goals it released ahead of its annual sustainability report expected later this year.
Another major player in the industry, Norwegian Cruise Line, announced its own goals to slash carbon emissions on Wednesday by purchasing carbon offsets.
Corporate and governmental pledges to stem the emissions of greenhouse gasses are essential to slowing down the impacts of climate change.
Carnival also released firm targets for 2030, including reducing air emissions 50 per cent from 2015 levels; expanding the use of alternative fuels like liquefied natural gas (a fossil fuel), fuel cells and biofuels; and slashing the relative emissions of each ship.
“Our new 2030 sustainability goals demonstrate our ongoing commitment to ingraining sustainability in all aspects of our operations across our nine brands, while providing us clear, measurable targets and metrics to improve our performance and overall efficiency across our shoreside and shipboard operations,” said Bill Burke, chief maritime officer for Carnival Corporation, in a statement.
Critics say reducing relative emissions allows for each ship to get more efficient while adding even more ships, and therefore increasing overall emissions. To combat that, Carnival noted that its commitment is to reducing overall emissions, which it says peaked in 2011.
Norwegian’s press release on its emissions plan touted the company’s recent success at lowering energy use and carbon intensity but did not set any future targets for emissions cuts either relative or overall.
Carnival said it plans to have at least 60 per cent of its fleet capable of plugging into local electrical grids at ports instead of idling its engines while docked, a practice known as shore power, by 2030. Port Miami recently announced plans to introduce shore power capability at two of its berths, including one at Carnival Cruise Line’s new terminal. The hookups will be the first for cruise ships in the Southeast. In January, 39 of the company’s 87 ships were equipped with shore power.
The company released no direct plan on how it will achieve carbon neutrality – a tall order for an industry that runs on fossil-fuel-powered ships without a clear pathway to switch to renewable energy.
Carnival is still on probation for federal environmental crimes – dumping oily waste into the ocean and covering it up – it pleaded guilty to in 2016, taking a US$40 million (NZ$56.7 million) fine. In 2019, the company pleaded guilty to violating probation and paid a US$20 million fine. The company’s probation ends in April 2022.
Shipping, of which cruises make up a tiny fraction, is one of the heaviest polluting industries in the world. Ships usually burn one of the dirtiest fossil fuels for energy, and studies show the technology used to scrub pollutants from the air onboard ships releases that pollution into the ocean instead.
The most popular alternative option, liquefied natural gas, and natural gas pipelines are notorious for leaks of methane – a gas that heats up the atmosphere much more dramatically than carbon dioxide. Carnival has four LNG-powered ships in service and plans to have 11 by 2025, which will make up 20 per cent of its total capacity.
Carnival said it aspires to create a zero-emissions ship by 2050.
If the technology for zero-emissions ships isn’t available soon, cruise corporations may need to turn to carbon offsets. Popular offsets include planting trees to make up for the carbon burned in activities like driving or flying.
Norwegian announced Wednesday it plans to purchase carbon credits to offset three million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next three years and “ramp up in future years to reach the goal of carbon neutrality,” according to a release. Norwegian offered no timeline for when it expects to reach net-zero carbon emissions.
“Our commitment to purchase three million metric tons of carbon credits is a measurable step in near-term emissions reductions which allows us to take action today and helps bridge the gap in our decarbonization efforts as we prepare for a lower-carbon future,” said Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line, in a statement.
MSC Cruises has put on hold its plans to become carbon-neutral using offsets to mitigate the emissions from its ships due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The company became the first major cruise line to announce it would be carbon-neutral starting in January 2020. Instead, the company is focusing on reducing its emissions, including a goal of reducing total greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 compared to 2008 levels, said spokesperson Luca Biondolillo via email.
Carnival has not made any commitments about purchasing carbon offsets to reach carbon neutrality.
“We have made no decision at this point,” said Carnival spokesperson Roger Frizzell in an email.