Shipping Will Be Decarbonized Through Concerted Action


  • Given the harmful effects of global warming, the shipping industry must act urgently, collaboratively and comprehensively across multiple dimensions to put the sector on a path to zero emissions.
  • But since players are only affected indirectly and potential solutions require concerted alignment, collaboration does not automatically materialise to the degree that is needed.
  • Shipping needs to burn the least possible quantity of green fuels.

The marine industry is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, generating approximately 1.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) in 2020, accounting for almost 3% of global GHG emissions as reported by The Loadstar.

Harmful effects 

This is more than the world’s fifth GHG-emitting country; however, given the cross-border nature of the maritime sector, it is not addressed in the nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

According to the fourth IMO GHG study, using 2008 as a basis and without major decarbonisation, maritime GHG emissions will likely increase by 90% to 130% by 2050.

Given the harmful effects of global warming, the shipping industry needs to act urgently, collaboratively and comprehensively across multiple dimensions to put the sector on a path to zero emissions.

Several decarbonisation enablers have emerged: they include energy technologies (like alternative fuels and improved energy efficiencies onboard ships); regulatory and financial measures (such as carbon pricing); and integrative solutions (like just-in-time arrivals).

However, a variety of perspectives and solutions can cause decision confusion among different stakeholders.

There is no time for “wait and see” in green maritime transport.

Aligning efforts

The maritime sector is a complex ecosystem with several value chains that necessitate the participation of all stakeholders. The marine fuel value chain, the shipbuilding value chain, and the maritime operations value chain are all important in driving the sector’s decarbonisation efforts since they influence other value chains and define what is done collectively.

The fuel chain

The well-to-wake marine fuel value chain encompasses exploration, transportation, processing, transport of fuel to fuelling spots and consumption by the ship operator.

These are interdependent components that need to be functional simultaneously to avoid bottlenecks and shortages of equipment or fuels.

Today, maritime operators do not have sufficient price-competitive alternative fuel options to commit to charter agreements that include a premium for next-generation dual-fuel engines.

Some shipbuilders and engine manufacturers have responded, building ships with dual-fuel engines that can operate on methanol and fuel oil or on LNG and fuel oil.

A wide range of low-carbon/zero-emission fuels is under development, such as green LNG, green methanol, green ammonia and green hydrogen, with different timelines of availability on the market.

The shipbuilding chain

The maritime operational value chain covers the steps of ships being operational in their activities of travelling between ports and making port visits.

Consequently, steps along the maritime operational value chain are fuelling/provisioning, loading/boarding, voyaging, unloading/disembarking and refuelling.

Ship operators have multiple levers to reduce CO2 emissions, including leveraging the size and speed of ships and fleets, demanding hydrodynamic designs and dual-fuel engines or ships (partially) powered by biodiesel and electricity.

This obviously applies to ships, but seaports are also a crucial part of the operational chain.

The members of the maritime decarbonisation ecosystem, need to align their strategies to ensure that they work simultaneously on the critical enablers across the three key maritime value chains (figure 1).

The required scope of decarbonisation efforts involves the full cluster of critical value chains, and the decarbonisation enablers are sitting across the cluster.

Each enabler may be driving decarbonisation in one, two or all the three maritime value chains.

One key enabler that cuts across all three maritime value chains is the availability of alternative fuel at market-compatible prices.

As an output of the marine fuel value chain, alternative fuels determine ship design, engines, tanks, and ship operations.

Weather routing is another enabler that cuts across two value chains: first, the shipbuilding value chain as it needs sensors on ships, and second, the operations value chain as it requires the adoption of the systems by the operators.

Self-organised ecosystems

The maritime industry is a self-organised ecosystem (SOE) of many independent entities that co-operate as needed to achieve a common goal, such as berthing a ship.

Achieving a higher level of continual collaboration for innovation and change is a challenge, as an SOE has no keystone organisation that can command action by other organisations.

Global warming is an existential threat far larger than any current or recent exigencies.

A determined and unwavering partnership between industry and regulators will be crucial in driving accelerated decarbonisation of marine transportation.

Regulations are necessary to ensure a level playing field.

For example, those avoiding a carbon tax have fewer costs.

Step 1: initiating collaborative innovation

The initial step is to establish co-ownership of the problem by identifying and describing a common object of interest for the parties engaged.

The goal is a zero-emissions maritime industry.

This requires incentives to engage major stakeholders, a high degree of transparency to ensure fair engagement, a self-regulating mechanism to reduce self-interested actions detrimental to others or the community, and financially commensurate penalties for non-compliance.

Knowledge is the currency for rewarding participation.

Real-time feedback and data analytics must be made widely available to inform the community and grease collaboration and innovation.

Step 2: establishing regulatory alignment

Decarbonisation requires supportive regulations.

Regulators have the power and the mission to push the industry in new directions that benefit citizens.

Regulators and corporate leaders should jointly promote new international policies for global regulatory convergence/harmonisation to ensure favourable conditions for the global shipping industry.

The maritime industry enables other industries to prosper by moving materials and energy[1] across the globe.

Its worldwide impact, thus, requires alignment across many policymakers.

Step 3: leverage technology

Green fuels will play a large role in decarbonization, with digital technologies playing a role in improving energy efficiency. Green fuels must be burned in the smallest amount possible in shipping.

The adoption of digital advances in the maritime industry has surged recently, as seen by the growing debate on maritime informatics and maritime information technology and systems. Collaborative innovation, aided by technological developments, can bring people and organisations from all across the ecosystem together to share information.

GHG emission calculators, digital twins of engines, ships, and port infrastructure are among the other enablers.


The industry recognises the urgent need to act. In 2019, the Getting to Zero Coalition was formed. The Zero Emission Shipping Mission and Green Corridors (the Clydebank Declaration) have followed on an intergovernmental level. Action, innovation, and celebration are required to support these endeavours.

We know what’s needed: new fuels, new ships, and new operational methods. We recognise the importance of coordination among the three major marine value chains. Knowing where you want to go and getting there, on the other hand, are two quite different problems. By forming a cross-value chain coalition of action-oriented leaders, we can accelerate the conversion of ideas into practical solutions.


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Source: The Loadstar


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