Governments play a crucial role

There are no viable alternative fuels yet. And it is expensive to develop them. According to two new reports, governments must act and support the shipping industry’s transition to zero-emission.

The shipping industry has no time to lose if it is to meet the IMO's ambition of at least halving emissions by 2050. According to a report by the Energy Transitions Commissions, this requires commercially viable zero emission vessels to be operating along the world's deep sea trade routes by 2030. This requires major collaborations in the industry. But that is not enough. The development of new technologies and fuels is just in its infancy and it will, at least initially, be very expensive to run on fossil-free fuels. The world's governments must therefore act quickly and support shipping. This ranges from direct grants, offering concessional loans to first movers, waiving electricity taxes and grid fees, co-investing in zero emission pilots, to exploring measures such as a carbon levy.

“Governments have a crucial role in incentivizing and accelerating shipping’s green transition. By supporting first movers, governments can help generate the technology learnings and economies of scale that will allow the market to take over”, says Kasper Søgaard, Head of Research at the Global Maritime Forum in a press release.

Another report, Catalysing the Fourth Propulsion Revolution, which the international shipowners' association ICS published this week, also points out that no zero carbon fuels are available at the size and scale needed to drive decarbonisation. There are several promising fuels and technologies (ammonia, hydrogen, fuel cells and batteries are mentioned), but major investments in research and development are needed before they become viable. This represents a "financial iceberg" for the industry and the report urge the IMO to back the shipping industry's proposal for an international R & D fund of 5 billion dollars to be financed through taxes on marine fuels. World governments must also be on board. The report warns that a failure by governments to support the industry’s initiative to accelerate R&D risks trillions of dollars of investment being misallocated, making it impossible for the sector to decarbonise.

“The proposed R&D fund will lead to the introduction of zero-emission ships across the maritime sector by 2030 and beyond. We therefore urge the IMO to back the proposal, which will have such wide-ranging benefits for shipping, and the global transport sector more broadly”, says Guy Platten, ICS Secretary General in a press release.