Path To IMO 2050 And The Role Of Actionable Analytics

For the international shipping sector, the successful path to IMO 2050 will require the revolutionary implementation of new technologies, low-carbon fuels, and other vital measures.

This article will consider what IMO 2050 is, some of the different measures shipping companies can use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships, and how data/analytics can reduce GHG emissions fleet-wide for your company.

Vessel Insights API by DTN combines operational data, advanced vessel digital profiles, high-definition tracking information, and best-in-class weather observations to empower you to reach your energy efficiency and sustainability goals.

Aerial view of container ship

What is required under IMO 2050

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a United Nations agency. One of its responsibilities is to reduce and prevent the pollution caused by ships. By 2050, the IMO seeks to reduce CO2 emissions from international shipping by 70% and reduce GHGs by 50% (compared to 2008 levels).

According to the IMO website, “the strategy includes a specific reference to “a pathway of CO2 emissions reduction consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals”.”

These sustainability goals are expected to come at a considerable financial cost. The economic cost of reaching emissions targets the IMO adopted was estimated (by University College London’s Energy Institute) at between USD 1 trillion to USD 1.4 trillion.

Hand turning down emissions dial by ship

Different ways for a shipping company to reduce GHGs

As you would expect, strategies for emissions reduction mostly revolve around greener fuels and developing an infrastructure to facilitate their introduction and use.

A few of the suggested measures the shipping industry must consider aimed at the elimination of carbon fuels and the reduction of emissions to help keep warming below 1.5 degrees are:


Cleaner Fuel

An obvious short-term measure is to switch existing ships to fuels that contain fewer pollutants. Moving a massive cargo ship requires significant fuel usage; a regular container ship at sea can go through 63,000 gallons of heavily polluting “bunker fuel” in a single day.

In 2020, the IMO brought in measures to reduce the sulfur content of this kind of fuel from 3.5% to just 0.5%. This measure alone should see a sulfur emissions reduction of a whopping 8.5 million tons a year.



It is hoped that shipping companies can achieve a significant reduction in CO2 emissions can by using biofuels that are functionally equivalent to petroleum fuels and can already be mixed with fossil fuels without any engine modification. 

So far, there have been encouraging results. The idea would be to replace fossil fuels with drop-in biofuels gradually. This change to less polluting fuel will not be immediate, but the momentum toward the transition is picking up speed as demand for cleaner energy grows.


Green Hydrogen

Green hydrogen is another alternative fuel made by using wind and solar power to split water and release hydrogen. Green hydrogen has the potential to be used to power ships in a completely emission-free way.

There is a lot of excitement around green hydrogen and its potential to help the shipping industry reduce its carbon footprint yet maintain energy efficiency. However, challenges include the significant amount of extra space required onboard to store the fuel. That means a lot less cargo capacity onboard the ship.

Unlike other fuel alternatives, green hydrogen would also require ships to replace existing engines with a green hydrogen compatible setup. This, along with the much higher cost of the fuel at present compared to bunker fuel, means there are financial hurdles to overcome.

Despite these challenges, the excitement surrounding this green hydrogen strategy is justified because of the potential this fuel has to solve the shipping industry’s carbon emissions problem. The cost of producing this alternative fuel is expected to decrease dramatically in the next few years.


Wind Power

Wind power is undoubtedly one of the oldest known power sources for shipping. IMO member states have begun to encourage shipping companies to investigate a return to wind power as the force to carry goods around the globe. 

When it comes to ticking both the “cleaner” and “cheaper” boxes, it’s hard to imagine a better idea than a return to wind power.

Already, this concept has gone beyond the theoretical. A ship called Oceanbird has been developed in Sweden and will be launched in 2024. It is a ship capable of carrying 7,000 cars over the Atlantic. It will do so by combining the use of sails that are 80-meters tall with small engines used for harbor navigation.

Although journey speeds would be reduced by half, there is a confidence that the environmental benefits will more than makeup for the speed limitations.

Other routes toward the elimination of carbon fuels and reduction of emissions include:

  1. Battery Power – Currently, this technology is mainly limited to small ships.
  2. Slow Steaming – Simply put, this method is just about going slower. A voyage can achieve a 27% reduction in carbon emissions with just a 10% reduction in speed.

Along with these short, medium, and long-term measures, there is also the need for immediate action on emissions reduction. Digital technology and the actionable insights supplied by real-time data can play an important role both now and in the future. Decarbonization is one of the top drivers of digitalization in the shipping industry.  

Large cargo ship with tugboat

How data / actionable insights play a role

Reducing emissions, fuel efficiency, performance, and profitability go hand in hand. Vessel Insights API by DTN can make an immediate impact by providing your enterprise with accurate data-driven insights.

Actionable insights based on comprehensive data enable you to enhance vessel performance and, in turn, reduce emissions. Vessel Insights API provides you with the operational intelligence necessary to make the right decisions at the fleet level and meet your immediate decarbonization goals.

If you are wondering:

  • how do I fully visualize my fleet, 
  • produce top-quality ship-to-shore reports, 
  • have a clear and comprehensive picture of the impact of weather on my vessel, 
  • introduce green initiatives and 
  • properly evaluate the efficacy of my decarbonization goals, 

the answer is simple, Vessel Insights API.