What does a good COP27 look like for shipping?
Shipping is set to be a high-profile hot ticket at this year’s climate summit in Egypt — those attending should focus the attention on how the industry’s siloed approaches to date can be worked into a much wider set of global problems
Headline commitments to decarbonise shipping are finally being worked into the wider energy transition. The results of this year’s COP may be lower in profile as a result, but more substantive progress can come from aligning government energy transition plans with industry readiness
GOVERNMENT and industry leaders gathering in Egypt this weekend are not waiting for the COP27 climate summit to reveal a verdict on progress. That much is abundantly clear already.
The latest Emissions Gap Report from the UN Environment Programme finds a mere 500,000m tonnes have been shaved off last year’s 17bn-20bn tonne gap between where the annual rate of carbon dioxide emissions would need to be in 2030 in order to offer a decent chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and what is implicit in the political promises on the table.
Shipping barely registers in the national contribution plans being scrutinised at COP27 (just 4% make any reference to shipping), but as the recent UN Climate Change High Level Champions report found, the industry is at least “partially on track” when it comes to technology, policy and supply of scalable zero-emission fuels.
That progress, however, comes in spite of, rather than because of the flurry of shipping-specific declarations and pledges witnessed at last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, where action has been slow to follow the rhetoric.
Shipping has been overwhelmed with commitments, but the focus of this year’s COP is to translate that into tangible implementation and also, perhaps counter-intuitively, make the discussion less about shipping.
Solely focusing on decarbonising the shipping industry is not just insufficient, it was not working.
For all the promise of pilot projects being pursued by shipping companies, scaling projects is woefully behind where it needs to be and progress is in danger of stalling altogether.
A change of approach is required.
Amid the buzzword pronouncements around resilience and equitable transitions, and reports detailing progress towards green transport hubs and corridors, there will be a notable difference in tone and substance at this year’s COP27 events.
The slew of reports being timed to coincide with COP are less about shipping emissions mitigation and more about climate resilience and funding a equitable and just transition. Even shipping-specific announcements are now looking beyond the vessels and fuels and considering the wider, much more urgent need to invest in the 800,000 seafarers who will require additional training by the mid-2030s if any of these changes are going to be rolled out.
The keynote discussions now are about matching government energy ambitions with the wider maritime ecosystem and taking a more holistic view of the collaboration required to develop the technology, policies and incentives that are needed to make progress. And that progress is not just about investment and financing.
It is about climate resilience, social inclusion and sustainable economic growth. It is also about positioning shipping as a facilitator of projects, able to help build resilience in supply chains and communities.
That may sound more nebulous, but the siloed approach being pursued by policies trying to decarbonise shipping as a “hard to abate” sector in isolation were in danger of leaving shipping at the mercy of other sectors.
That danger has not evaporated, but the mood music in Sharm El Sheikh suggests a more substantive and more positive dialogue between governments and industry, with shipping pitching itself as a solution rather than a problem to be overcome down the line.
Shipping is not decarbonising in isolation and there are other sectors equally aspirational and arguably more ready to fight for the same supply of zero-carbon fuel being discussed over the coming 13 days of global negotiations.
COPs are a platform to pitch policy, but they are also a forum to create pacts and shipping is heading to this year’s event looking to match-make the hydrogen producers with shipping’s 2030 demand signals.
Context matters in such pairings. The fact that at least 90 countries have now signalled that they are prepared to raise the International Maritime Organization’s emissions reduction ambition to zero by 2050, is helpful in the context of these discussions.
Initiatives such as the Green Hydrogen Catapult on show in Egypt are pivotal for the massive scale-up needed and energy ministries will be busy sizing up the supply and demand balances required to commit policy and investment against such projects.
Whether that momentum can then be translated back into IMO advances when the Marine Environment Protection Committee kicks off in December remains to be seen. Those ministerial representatives attending COP are rarely the same people attending IMO, however this more holistic approach being pursued by industry is seeking to join the dots and ensure alignment.
The shipping industry’s policy focus continues to be carbon pricing and a positive round of discussions at COP could yet ease the path at IMO to a market-based measure being agreed by next summer.
But even if that somewhat optimistic scenario does come to fruition and the industry hopefuls shaking hands in Sharm El Sheikh find sufficient public and private pledges to underwrite the $1.4trn upstream decarbonisation investment required, the technical readiness of the industry must also now be aligned with a more globally integrated series of projects that are all interconnected and all being negotiated at COP27.
Fuel supply, regulatory clarity and the thorny issue of who pays for the cost differential in the zero-carbon energy transition are all dependent on shipping being able to position itself within the wider global energy transition dialogue.
COP27 will feature maritime-focused events almost every day of this two-week event, but a good outcome from Egypt will see fewer big ticket shipping commitments to 2050 and more tangible progress being made on shipping’s integration into a much bigger set of problems.