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COP26: More than 20 nations vow to develop zero-emission shipping routes

10 November 2021 Max Tingyao Lin

A group of 22 countries pledged to create emission-free shipping corridors in the coming years as an initial step to decarbonizing maritime transportation, one of the hardest-to-abate sectors.

The signatory countries of the Clydebank Declaration aim to establish at least six seaborne trade lanes where vessels can access zero-emission fuels on a pilot basis by 2025 before scaling up to more and longer routes, or more ships in the same corridors.

"It is our aspiration to see many more corridors in operation by 2030," they said 10 November in the declaration issued at COP26.

The new coalition will complement the Zero-Emission Shipping Mission (ZESM), launched by Denmark, Norway, and the US in July to put the maritime sector on track to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The three countries have teamed up with Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Marshall Islands, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, and the UK in the Clydebank Declaration.

Some signatory countries hope that the green shipping lanes will help achieve the ZESM's interim targets of putting at least 200 zero-emission vessels in operation, and having such ships account for 5% of bunker fuel consumption in deep-sea trade globally, before 2030.

These are seen by many as challenging tasks because the supply chains for low-emission fuels are not yet developed at scale. The first ships powered by ammonia and methanol for deep-sea trade are only expected to hit the water in the next two to three years.

In a COP26 event, UK Minister for Maritime Robert Courts said governments need to partner with private corporations to initiate pilot projects now for the 2050 goal to be feasible.

"The Clydebank Declaration provides governments with the framework to encourage the establishment of zero-emission shipping routes between their ports," Courts said. "The declaration is the starting pistol for the industry to invest in research and to develop these [decarbonization] technologies with confidence."

Benny Engelbrecht, transport minister of Denmark, said the signatories' eventual aim is to make zero-emission vessels the default choice for fleet renewal.

"To move forward.… We need to launch [and scale up] demonstration projects that show policymakers and the industry that zero-emission shipping is actually possible," Engelbrecht added.

Foundation for success

The Getting to Zero Coalition, formed by more than 150 banks, shipowners, commodities firms, and fuel suppliers, suggested policy support and access to low-emission fuels are required to create green corridors.

Its study published 10 November by the coalition highlighted the potential of two zero-emission shipping lanes: the Australia-Japan iron ore route, with 29 GW of hydrogen electrolyzer capacity planned in Australia by 2030; the Asia-Europe container route, with 33 GW of electrolyzer capacity set to be on tap in Europe and the Middle East by 2030.

Global Maritime Forum CEO Johannah Christensen, whose organization contributed to the study, said stakeholders in the public and private sectors should not be overly concerned with economies of scale in the initial phase.

"Coordination can be made easier by the green corridor approach. Corridors are big enough to develop supply and demand at scale, but small enough to allow policies and business models to be tailored to specific conditions," Christensen said.

Zero-emission bunker fuels will still be 25%-65% more expensive than oil-based fuels in the first green corridors, said Faustine Delasalle, a co-executive director of the World Economic Forum-backed Mission Possible Partnership.

"Targeted government action to close that cost gap on corridors could pay big dividends for the transition overall," added Delasalle. The partnership also contributed to the study.

Tristan Smith, reader in shipping at UCL Energy Institute, said governments will need to pump "hundreds of millions of pounds" into the pilot projects before the cost of low-carbon fuels start to fall.

"These early demonstrations are going to need serious government support … We're talking about finding a way to getting international shipping routes to use a fuel that's significantly more expensive," Smith told Net-Zero Business Daily.

"There's going to really need to be some government cash put on the table, not necessarily fully subsidizing, but working in a very clever public-private partnership," he added.

UN High-Level Climate Champions' Shipping Lead Katharine Palmer said governments will first have to identify which shipowners, cargo owners, and bunker suppliers to work with in the green trade lanes.

"This can't be done by countries alone. The industry has a significant role realizing these commitments … they can help support and enable the ecosystem," Palmer said.

Varied perspectives

Some in the shipping industry welcomed the Clydebank Declaration, saying the initiative could finally kickstart the development of low-carbon bunker supply chains.

"We are so happy to see this green corridor because it provides a platform where everyone can lean in as operators and actually collaborate with others," said Morten Bo Christiansen, head of decarbonization at Danish shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk.

Lars Robert Pedersen, deputy secretary general of trade group BIMCO, said the signatory countries will probably cooperate to facilitate specific trades where some ships can operate on green fuels.

"It seems that this is a kind of sandbox type of arrangement aimed to trial commercial arrangements which can later be scaled to global reach, which could hold good potential," Pedersen said.

Lloyd's Register CEO Nick Brown expects the initiative to help find the best locations to build the first land-based refueling facilities for zero-carbon fuels.

"Green corridors are essential to support first mover viability. They help avoid the chicken-and-egg situation of ships arriving before the fuel is ready in the right quantities and locations," Brown said.

But some environmentalist groups said the declaration is short on strong, concrete decarbonization targets and does not align with the Paris Agreement's climate goal.

"It is very scant on concrete action, [and] there is no official or binding commitment," said Jacob Armstrong, sustainable shipping officer at Transport & Environment. "Shipping needs concrete roadmaps to decarbonize, not more aspirational goals ... The problem is rather a lack of clarity on what 'green' corridors mean, lack of governance, and no enforcement [mechanism]."

To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, UN scientists said annual GHG emissions need to be reduced by 45-50% in the next eight years.

"While we welcome anything that helps move us towards a decarbonized shipping industry, this declaration is not the kind of major development that we are looking for," Seas at Risk Senior Policy Advisor John Maggs said.

"Even if this resulted in 5% of zero-emission fuels [in the bunker mix] in 2030, it would still be a million miles away from what is needed for shipping to play its fair part," he added.

Policy discussions

UN member states generally prefer to hammer out detailed emission rules for shipping at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) rather than COP talks.

In 2018, the specialized agency set a target to halve GHG emissions from international shipping by the middle of the century relative to 2008 levels. This goal is scheduled to be reviewed by 2023.

There have been growing calls from industry participants—including the International Chamber of Shipping—to raise the target to net-zero emissions before 2050.

During the IMO's 77th Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting 22-26 November, a joint proposal from the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands to cut shipping emissions to absolute zero by 2050 will be discussed. Costa Rica, Japan, Norway, the UK, and the US will propose a net-zero alternative.

"One of the most important tools that the world has in this moment is the International Maritime Organization. But in the context of the climate crisis, its current level of climate ambition must go further," US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said during COP26 10 November.

Posted 10 November 2021 by Max Tingyao Lin, Principal Journalist, Climate and Sustainability

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