The Five Steps To Decarbonising the Maritime Sector

From rising temperatures and extended periods of drought to heat waves and flooding, it’s safe to say the impacts of climate change are already here. In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that if we fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, these adverse effects will get considerably worse in the decades to come.

Currently, the marine sector relies heavily on oil, a fossil fuel with a high carbon content. However, there are many both within and external to the industry who are wondering how the marine sector can possibly decarbonise when it plays such a significant part in the global economy. Given the pressure on the sector to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and adopt more sustainable practices in its daily operations, decarbonisation may be the solution. 

If the maritime sector is going to achieve its goal of decarbonisation, the industry must do so in the face of legislative, financial and technical uncertainty. Although historically the marine industry has not received much attention when it comes to its impact on the planet, the decarbonisation of the sector could be the engine that drives green development across a number of major industries.

To do so, the maritime industry needs to…

Drive demand

The first step towards decarbonising the maritime sector is creating demand by investing ahead. The path to decarbonising the industry will require a legal framework with carbon pricing at its core. However, as the demand for greener infrastructure isn’t quite there yet, businesses and organisations operating within the sector must make the necessary investments in the face of regulatory and legislative uncertainty.

One of the first actions that can be taken by owners/operators is the creation of green corridors. Green corridors refer to specific trade and shipping routes between ports where only zero-emission solutions are implemented and supported. In simple terms, demand could be created by businesses only relying on green corridors to carry out operations, which would put pressure on other organisations across the industry to invest in more environmentally friendly infrastructure. This is especially relevant for the logistics and distribution sector which could implement zero carbon shipping by simply relying on green corridors. 

Invest in technology

In order for decarbonisation to occur, the maritime industry needs to accelerate the pace of research and development into greener practices, as well as scale up infrastructure.

Although the infrastructure is still in its infancy, including the assets necessary to decarbonise vessels and ships, in recent years it has become increasingly accepted that a variety of fuels and infrastructures will be needed. Energy efficiency and green retrofitting will almost definitely govern the processes needed in this expensive and complex shift.

Finance innovation

To kickstart the decarbonisation of the maritime sector, transparency is also needed to change crucial business models and filter investments. In the short term, the industry needs to bridge the gap between simply discussing the importance of decarbonisation and actually channelling investment into the necessary projects, practices and processes. 

Before the maritime sector can actually fully decarbonise, advances in the production and distribution of zero-carbon fuel are required. So in the meantime, the challenge many owners/operators are facing is improving energy efficiency by retrofitting existing fleets with greener infrastructure. In the long term, more transparency and clarity are needed regarding the overhead costs of sustainability as well as the size of the rewards and penalties that will be necessary to achieve a quick transition.  

Reach out and collaborate

Individual businesses and organisations will not be able to decarbonise on their own. While feasible pathways to decarbonisation exist, widespread collaboration is required across the sector to accelerate action, spur development and enact the large-scale systems, infrastructure and assets needed.

In the past, the maritime sector’s insular approach to business had slowed progress when it comes to decarbonisation. Only with collaboration can new business models be created, as well as more efficient, supply chains that don’t cost the earth.

Enact policy

Beyond the maritime industry itself, policy and legislation are required at government level. Uncertainty will continue to pose a danger to enterprises working in the sector until the regulatory piece of the industry’s decarbonization jigsaw puzzle fully takes shape. Industry executives concur that a worldwide regulatory framework is not fully necessary for early-stage development, but it is true that without new regulations, the price difference between clean and dirty fuels will endure for many more years. The decarbonization of the maritime industry and the associated worldwide economies will be hampered as a result.

Final thoughts

Even if the maritime industry has not yet gotten much attention in terms of environmental sustainability, the decarbonisation of the sector could serve as a catalyst for green development and growth across a number of major sectors – simply by implementing more sustainable practices such as green corridors. So despite political, economic and technical uncertainty, the maritime sector already has a plethora of sustainable prospects at its fingertips. 

Given the pressure on the sector to cut its greenhouse gas emissions and embrace more sustainable practices in its day-to-day operations, you may be wondering how the marine industry could ever decarbonise when it plays such a big role in the global economy. At the end of the day, the maritime sector must decarbonise and move away from utilising fossil fuels as its main source of energy if it hopes to minimise its impact on our planet. By driving demand, investing in the right technology, initiating industry-wide collaboration and working with governmental bodies to enact policy, the maritime sector has the potential to stimulate greater investment in renewable projects across the world and start a green revolution.