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IAS Fellows’ Lecture -Can sailing ships decarbonise maritime cargo transport?

October 20 @ 5:30 pm - 6:30 pm

Public lecture by Dr Christiaan De Beukelaer,  University of Melbourne


Shipping symbolises the kind of economy we’ve built: a gargantuan global machine that delivers the goods, at an enormous environmental cost. Indeed, maritime transport is the engine of the world economy, shipping 11 billion tonnes of goods each year. But the sector’s emissions have doubled since 1990. It now pumps more than one billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. This is more than aviation, more than all of Germany, or even more than France, Britain, and Italy combined. As the shipping industry is forecast to grow threefold by 2050, fully decarbonising the industry is urgent to limit catastrophic climate change.

Through his research, Dr Christiaan De Beukelaer wanted to understand whether there are any realistic alternatives to business-as-usual. A handful of small shipping companies started transporting goods with traditional sailing vessels, but would this offer a realistic alternative? With cargo capacities around fifty to a hundred tonnes, we’d need millions of such vessels to make a dent in global cargo emissions. Though they make a powerful symbolic case: The wind has propelled ships for thousands of years, so we should be able to return to this emission-free technology. After speaking to the owners of these companies, he wanted to find out how these ships operate and what drives the (partially volunteer) crews who commit their time and energy to help tack and gybe the ships and their cargos across the ocean.

Dr Christiaan De Beukelaer planned to join the Avontuur, a sailing cargo vessel, for a three-week stint across the Atlantic, from Tenerife to Marie Galante in the French Antilles. Halfway our passage, the world went into lockdown and seafarers were left “locked out” at sea. As a result, he spent 150 days covering 14,000 nautical miles as part of a sailing crew aboard the Avontuur, a century old two masted schooner fitted for cargo.

This lecture aims to answer two questions. First, can sailing ships decarbonise the shipping industry. Second, what would maritime transport look like in a world commensurate with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-degree temperature?

The lecture builds on the forthcoming book Trade Winds: A Voyage to a Sustainable Future for Shipping, which recounts both my personal odyssey and the journey the shipping industry is embarking on to cut its carbon emissions. Its launch will take place at the Cutty Sark in London on January 27th 2023.

This lecture is free and open to all. Registration is not required to attend in person. 



October 20
5:30 pm - 6:30 pm
Event Category:


Sir James Knott Hall, Trevelyan College

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