Can “green corridors” help reduce the carbon footprint of shipping?

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Posted on April 24, 2022 at 7:07 p.m. by

China Ocean Dialogue

[By Isabelle Gerretsen]

At last year’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, 22 countries, including the UK, US, Germany and Japan, signed the Clydebank Declaration, announcing their intention to establish various zero-emission maritime routes called “green corridors”. By 2025, the goal is to have in place at least six such corridors, each of which would connect two or more ports. By 2030, it is hoped that many more routes will be operational.

Ships emit more than a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases each year, just under three percent of global emissions, according to the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations body responsible for shipping. Without further action, emissions from shipping are expected to increase by at least 30% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels.

Global emissions from shipping must reach net zero by mid-century to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. To date, the IMO has set an emissions reduction target of just 50% by 2050 from 2008 levels, which campaigners say is insufficient to help limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

Dissatisfied with the decision-making slowness of the IMO, countries are taking matters into their own hands by setting up green corridors. These aim to accelerate the adoption of zero-emission fuels on ships traveling between major maritime hubs and establish the necessary regulations, infrastructure and technology.

“In practice, you are creating a special economic zone,” said Aparjit Pandey, transport manager at the Energy Transition Commission. “It is a targeted area where fuel production and port infrastructure can be built very quickly and efficiently and where safety procedures and regulations can be put in place.”

The agreements between countries and ports will allow governments to provide targeted support to an industry that is otherwise internationally regulated by the IMO, Pandey said.

Green Corridors will allow countries to identify decarbonization solutions that are scalable, said Katherine Palmer, Expeditions Manager with the United Nations High-Level Climate Champions Team. It’s a “test bed” that provides “an evidence base to show decision-makers what’s possible,” she said. “They give them confidence in what can be done.”

Challenges for green corridors

One of the major challenges facing the shipping industry is that zero-emission fuels are currently not cost-competitive. An average carbon price of just under $200 per tonne of CO2 is needed to close the competition gap and fully decarbonize the shipping industry by 2050, according to analysis by University Maritime Advisory Services (UMAS), which is in partnership with the University College London (UCL) Energy Institute.

“There is no incentive to switch to new fuels and build zero-emission ships now. Statements like Clydebank try to create these incentives, but they are not enough on their own,” Aoife O’ said. Leary, a longtime IMO observer and head of Opportunity Green, a non-profit organization focused on international climate issues, including shipping, “But they will help build momentum for policy that can happen,” she said.

Green corridors aim to encourage the adoption of zero-emission fuels by putting in place pricing mechanisms. This could initially take the form of subsidies, such as feed-in tariffs, and possibly via carbon pricing, Palmer said.

The two fuels that will power the green corridors are methanol and “green” ammonia, both of which are considered carbon-free if generated from renewable sources. “In the short term, methanol is the best choice because it’s available, but in the long term, green ammonia is likely to be the fuel of choice to decarbonize the shipping industry,” Pandey said.

The cost of building new ships and converting existing ships to run on methanol is significantly lower than carbon-free alternative fuels. Ammonia, which is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, contains no carbon and therefore does not emit CO2 when used to power an internal combustion engine.

Zero-emission ships will also require huge amounts of new infrastructure to produce and store fuels and allow ships to refuel in ports. And the production of sustainable fuels must accelerate. Currently, less than 0.2 million tonnes of renewable methanol are produced each year and ammonia production is heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

Both methanol and ammonia are derived from hydrogen, so countries will need to invest in electrolyzers and renewable energy capacity, primarily wind and solar, to produce these fuels, as well as batteries and storage. hydrogen,” Pandey said. Most of these facilities will need to be built at or near participating ports, as hydrogen is expensive to transport.

China skips declaration but joins the first corridor

China is the world’s largest shipbuilder and the country with the largest maritime fleet, but apparently did not sign Clydebank’s declaration in Glasgow. Xiaoli Mao, a senior researcher with the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) marine program team, said this aligned with China’s view that plans to reduce marine emissions should be decided in the framework of the IMO rather than the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which convened COP26.

“We expect China to focus on improving the fuel efficiency of its fleet, but we hope it will consider steps to shift to low-carbon fuels and zero-emission vessels,” he said. said Mao.

Although it did not adhere to the declaration, China participates in the first green corridor. The ports of Los Angeles and Shanghai agreed in January to work on a plan for a zero-emissions route by the end of 2022.

The Trans-Pacific Corridor, as it is known, is the busiest freight route in the world. In 2020, ships moved 31.2 million 20ft unit containers – 21% of the global total – across the Pacific Ocean. Katherine Palmer said the corridor has strong first-mover potential because it does liner trade, meaning goods are transported along a fixed route on a regular schedule.

Similar initiatives are under consideration. An ICCT working paper analyzed the technical feasibility of a zero-emission container corridor running on hydrogen fuel cells between Shenzhen and Long Beach, a similar but longer route than LA-Shanghai. It concluded that 99% of trips studied – all of those that traveled the road in 2015 – could be powered by hydrogen, “with only minor modifications to fuel capacity or operations”.

A vital change is the need for ports to identify refueling points en route, as alternative fuels lack the range of fossil fuels, said Elise Georgeff, associate researcher on the program team. ICCT sailor. For the Shenzhen-Long Beach route, it points to the Aleutian Islands, off Alaska, as a natural halfway point for refueling.

More corridors under study

The Green Corridor concept is still in its infancy, but work is underway to identify and promote other potential routes. These include the Australia-Japan iron ore corridor and the Asia-Europe container corridor, according to the “Next Wave: Green Corridors” report, published by the World Maritime Forum and the World Economic Forum and co-authored by Pandy.

The Australia-Japan Corridor is one of the largest dry bulk trade routes, with 65 million tonnes of iron ore exported annually between the countries. Australia is already investing heavily in hydrogen and has announced plans to build 29 gigawatts of electrolyser capacity by 2030, much of it near major ports, the report notes.

The Asia-Europe Corridor is among the largest shipping routes in the world and currently generates more emissions than any other trade route. It has several potential refueling ports in regions along the way, making it suitable to be a green corridor, with more than 60 gigawatts of hydrogen electrolyzer capacity announced by 2030, according to the report.

Pandey also points to the large number of cargo and business owners who are “eager to reduce their emissions” along the route. “It could be really useful to set up a green corridor,” he added.

Palmer said more intra-European green corridors should be expected over the next decade. The European Union has paved the way for the decarbonisation of its shipping industry through a series of measures, including a sustainable fuel mandate within the EU and the inclusion of maritime emissions in the emissions trading scheme. emission quotas (ETS) of the block.

Could the IMO be sidelined? “There is an important role for the IMO in the future in regulating shipping internationally and around the long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from shipping,” says Palmer.

According to O’Leary, green corridors can help build momentum for action at IMO, which moves more slowly because it works by consensus.

“The more green corridors we see, the more IMO will do, and the more national and regional governments will move forward with policy,” she said. “There is this whole ecosystem that is starting to come together. It’s really great to see it come to fruition. »

Isabelle Gerretsen is a London-based freelance journalist who covers climate and environmental issues for a wide range of media, including Climate Home News, the BBC and CNN International.

This article appears courtesy of China Dialogue Ocean and can be found in its original form here.

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.

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