Broad Coalition Seeks to Make Zero-Carbon Fuel the "Default" by 2030

A dredger takes on low-carbon biofuel bunkers at Port of Rotterdam (file image courtesy GoodFuels)

Published Sep 21, 2021 8:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Getting to Zero Coalition has released a new manifesto in advance of the COP26 conference, the global climate gathering that will be held in Glasgow this November. Its call to action is signed by some of the biggest names in shipping, and it lays out a level of ambition that exceeds current IMO goals. 

"In 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) set an ambition for shipping to reduce its GHG emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050," wrote the partners. "This was an important first step, but given technological developments and the latest climate science, it is now time to set a clear target for the shipping industry to be run entirely on net-zero energy sources by 2050."

The letter notes that some private-sector actors are already working to make zero emission vessels and fuels "the default choice" by 2030, and it calls for "decisive government action and enabling policy frameworks" to reach full decarbonization by midcentury. 

To get on track to achieve that goal, the signatories wrote, five percent of the global fleet should be running on zero-carbon fuels by 2030. This will require large-scale infrastructure for energy production, distribution, storage and bunkering. It also means conducting more research in order to refine today's zero-emissions propulsion technologies. Safety and certification standards will also have to be developed in order to reduce the investment risk for vessels, infrastructure and production assets. 

This R&D, technology maturation and standardization effort will require industrial-scale demonstration projects, the partners noted. Large-scale experiments of this kind entail cost and risk, and this is an area where government can help - for example, providing incentives to first movers for trying out new approaches. 

Another way that government can assist is by leveling the playing field for higher-cost zero carbon fuels. Fossil fuels may not be cheap in the long term - CO2 pollution is a costly externality - but until the emissions cost of carbon is monetized, the traditional bunker fuel grades will have a market price advantage over "green" options. 

"This means that the market alone will not be able to make zero emission shipping commercially viable at the required scale. By 2025, policy makers must therefore put in place clear, effective, and equitable policy frameworks, such as meaningful [carbon levies, emissions taxes and emissions trading schemes], to make zero emission shipping commercially viable," the coalition wrote. 

The overarching request to governments is ambitious - far more ambitious than anything seen at IMO to date. The coalition calls on the COP26 parties to "adopt policy measures, including meaningful market-based measures, taking effect by 2025 that will support the commercial deployment of zero emission vessels and fuels in international shipping and make ordering zero emission vessels the default choice no later than 2030."

The list of signatories includes some expected participants, like Maersk (the rare industry proponent of a "sunset date" for fossil-fueled ships), Yara (the owner of the world's first all-electric boxship), and Port of Rotterdam (an early leader in green hydrogen). Some are less expected, like MSC (which only recently asserted that zero-emissions technology does not yet exist). Others are notable for their absence, like the International Chamber of Shipping, BIMCO, ECSA, China State Shipbuilding Corporation (the world's largest shipbuilder) and China COSCO (the world's largest shipowner by tonnage).