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Shipping launches ‘moon-shot’ initiative to develop zero emission vessels by 2030

The IMO’s commitment to slash shipping’s annual GHG emissions by 2050 by at least 50% was partly meant to boost incentives for businesses to invest in a low-carbon future. A year-and-a-half later, a large coalition of such entities has come together to work on zero emissions vessels

Coalition of influential industry heavyweights including Citi, Cargill, Lloyd’s Register, Maersk, Shell, Trafigura and Euronav move to focus industry decarbonisation efforts and overcome regulatory and infrastructure hurdles

AN INDUSTRY coalition of 60 companies, many of them major international corporations, has committed to developing commercially viable, zero-greenhouse gas emissions vessels by 2030. 

The ambitious target, launched today in the full glare of media attention as the UN Climate Action Summit gets under way in New York, is an unprecedented industry moon-shot initiative designed to accelerate industry efforts towards decarbonisation and add pressure on national and international regulators to support more rapid transition to fully decarbonised shipping. 

“The ambition of the ‘Getting to Zero Coalition’ is to have commercially viable zero-emissions vessels operating along deep-sea trade routes by 2030, supported by the necessary infrastructure for scalable zero-carbon energy sources including production, distribution, storage and bunkering,” the coalition said in a statement.

The coalition comprises 60 initial members including shipping companies, charterers, banks, ports, insurers and classification societies, but the group anticipates a rapid expansion of membership. 

While there is no formal structure in place yet, the coalition heavyweights including Citi, Cargill, Lloyd’s Register, Maersk, Shell, Trafigura and Euronav are taking the lead in the launch phase of the operation, which will then cast the net wider to bolster membership.

The coalition aims to support the IMO's initial strategy that seeks to reduce total annual GHG emissions from shipping by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008.

Citi shipping and logistic chairman Michael Parker explained to Lloyd’s List that the coalition is a commitment by the member organisations to devote time and resources in whatever way they can to bring forward zero emissions vessels by 2030.

“You have to start somewhere. It is pulling people together and saying 'we have the collective will to make it happen'. Because it has to happen in order for the IMO targets to be met,” he said.

Mr Parker, who helped launch the Poseidon Principles, under which banks will incorporate climate considerations in their ship lending policies, explained that the coalition is another effort in this direction.

“The Poseidon Principles is one way of helping but that alone does nothing if you have no zero emissions vessels to finance,” he said.

Beyond 2020, the focus of the 'Get to Zero' coalition will be on technological advancement, alternative fuel production and cost, and the launch pilot projects with zero emissions fuels. 

“By the end of 2023, it is expected that the possibility of a commercially viable ZEV operations by 2030 is generally accepted among key stakeholders beyond the coalition,” the coalition said.

But eventually elevated awareness and early steps in the intended direction will need to be augmented by appropriate policies, supporting critical infrastructure well beyond the design of the vessel.

“80% of the challenge here is everything that needs to happen on land; infrastructure, refineries, new energy,” Maersk head of sustainability strategy and chief advisor on climate change John Kornerup Bang told Lloyd’s List, adding that political pressure was part and parcel of the coalition’s intentions.

Mr Kornerup Bang lamented the fact that, thus far, many countries had not carried through with their commitments to meet the Paris Agreement targets when it comes to land industries.

“There is a gap that is also a problem for us as we are making the green transition because we are on the receiving end of what the terrestrial systems are capable of doing,” he said.

The IMO’s GHG strategy is limited to emissions from shipping and does not concern the production of the fuels ships use.

However, some stakeholders have argued that shipping’s quest for alternative fuels should consider their whole lifecycle to prevent GHG emissions during their production. 

The coalition intends to focus on the deployment of fuels with zero GHG emissions throughout the lifecycle, but acknowledged there may have to be a period when non-zero lifecycle missions fuels are used.

“If we rely on any energy source with an initially non-zero upstream emission, there needs to be evidence that the energy source will become zero at the latest within the timescales of completing shipping’s decarbonisation,” the coalition said in a statement

The onus remains with the IMO 

Mr Kornerup Bang said that the coalition is well aware that to access a commercially viable carbon neutral vessel in 11 years, the shipping industry will need to find ways to rapidly reduce technology costs and find ways to establish adequate investment in land infrastructure.

“But we are under no illusion that we can reach the actual goal without progress on the regulatory side. So we see ourselves as a demandeur for the needed measures to come in place by the IMO,” he said.

The coalition’s timeline suggests that in eight years’ time, aside from having seen the proven the safety, ramped up production and decreased price of zero emissions fuels, policy will play an important role in the movement’s success.

“By the end of 2027, it is expected that the policy environment, needed to facilitate the deployment of ZEVs has been established, making commercial investments in ZEVs bankable,” the coalition states.

Mr Kornerup Bang acknowledged that IMO meetings since the 2018 strategy actual progress that subsequent meetings have made is simply not enough.

“We achieved less than we had hoped for. The next meetings are really crucial. We will need higher speed than we saw in the latest meetings,” he said.

A preliminary IMO meeting on GHG emissions is happening in mid-November, while the decision-making environmental committee meets again in March 2020.

A coalition of the willing

In addition to the 60 launch members, the coalition, which came about as a collaboration among the Global Maritime Forum, the World Economic Forum and Friends of Ocean Action, also has six so-called knowledge partners to help it meet its goals, including UCL and the Sustainable Shipping Initiative.

Members aside, the coalition is also supported by seven other institutions and organisations, including the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development. 

Additionally, the governments of 11 countries, including Denmark, the UK, South Korea and Chile, officially endorsed the coalition.

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