A state of climate emergency has been recognised across the globe. In 2018, global shipping emissions were responsible for approximately 2.9% of global CO2 emissions. The energy transition to a lower carbon footprint is a key priority.

At COP 27, representatives from International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Bank came together alongside industry leaders and academics to host an event on producing future maritime fuels and to consider how the shipping industry can participate in the energy transition by finding a long-term sustainable fuel solution.

Shipping is the most globalised industry of all. Not only is the industry vital for global supply chains, but it is also dependent upon internationally traded hydrocarbons for fuel. The representative from the IMO, Kitack Lim, noted that while this dependence on fossil fuels will not end in the short term, progress towards net-zero must be made as a matter of urgency, and an end date for the use of fossil fuel use must be set.

Francesco de Camera of IRENA noted the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a transitional solution, although one that is incompatible with a net-zero solution given its high level of methane emissions.

A solution for the medium and longer term was identified, however, by Rebeca Grynspan of UNCTAD who emphasised the need for investment in alternative non-fossil fuels such as advanced biofuels and green synthetic fuels. The use of such fuels could open the door for developing countries with rich renewable energy resources to become new players in the energy market.

The panel was clear that developing countries needed the support and collective effort of the global community to build the technology and infrastructure needed to support the transition. Governments will have to work closely with ports and shipowners to create a regulatory regime that can accelerate demand for cleaner fuels. Finance will also be required for investment in new port infrastructure. Nicolas Peltier of the World Bank highlighted the role that ports could play as renewable energy hubs more widely, with port infrastructure able to harbour ships carrying future fuels such as hydrogen and establishing “green corridors”. Further finance will also be required for investment in zero carbon ships.

The panel were unanimous on the energy transition as a commercial growth opportunity. Investment in clean energy will create jobs across the shipping industry and supporting services. The IMO representative stressed that through close cooperation, the shipping sector could also play a role in the decarbonisation of other industries such as aviation.

Significant challenges, including fuel safety, infrastructure development, manpower competency, shipboard competencies, and the need to create a regulatory framework were highlighted by Professor Lynn Loo of the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation. However, panelists agreed that governments, along with businesses, had a responsibility to facilitate the green transition through international collaboration and cooperation.