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Zero-Carbon Shipping and COP26

From Dilara Dayioglugil, SODAC

November 2nd, 2021

The COP26 UN Climate Change Conference, hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy, takes place from October, 31st to November, 12nd 2021 and on the 6th of November, the shaping the future of shipping is a major cross-industry event that will be held during COP26. The conference will address key strategic issues in shipping’s rapidly evolving decarbonisation journey and will showcase it’s efforts to decarbonise and deliver a sustainable and equitable future for the industry.


Therefore, in this SODAC Highlight, we gathered some information about where sustainability is currently in the shipping industry by looking at key milestones of the decade.






The maritime sector will continue to play a vital role for world and European trade and its economy. In recent years, the maritime industry has taken severe measures to mitigate the environmental impacts caused by the industry. Ahead of a projected increase in the volume of global shipping, a new report presents for the first time the full-scale environmental impact from the EU shipping sector and identifies the challenges to achieving sustainability.


The European Maritime Transport Environment Report is the first report, issued on 1 September 2021 by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), covers the general situation of the industry in a comprehensive manner. The report states that 13.5% of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation within the European Union are caused by maritime transport, 71% is by road and 14.4% are by aviation.


Recently, 77% of European foreign trade volume and 35% of all trade between the US and Member States are carried out by sea, and maritime transport is a very important part of the international supply chain. Although maritime transport activities have decreased in 2020 due to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, a strong recovery is expected in the sector in the coming years in line with the increasing demand for basic resources and container transport.

International Maritime Organization’s Target

“The current target set by the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations body, is to reduce emissions from international shipping by 50% by 2050. The International Chamber of Shipping said it has submitted a proposal to the U.N. for the industry to stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere by mid-century.”

Shipping’s GHG emissions trajectory as foreseen by the IMO Initial GHG Strategy





Many ships visiting the U.S. have reduced their speeds by 20% compared to 2018, and have gone a long way in terms of emission reduction. In addition, emerging alternative fuels such as biodiesel, hydrogen or ammonia have the potential to decarbonize the shipping industry and achieve zero emissions. Coast Guard Command also provides ships with a clean energy source in inland ports.

  • Biofuels: Biofuels (such as biomethane, bioethanol and biomethanol)

  • Ammonia and Hydrogen: The second category of zero-carbon fuels considered were “green” and “blue” ammonia and hydrogen. Green hydrogen is produced from water using renewable electricity, while blue hydrogen is made from natural gas making use of carbon capturing and storage technology.

  • Synthetic carbon-based fuels: Producing with wombining green or blue hydrogen with carbon retrieved from the atmosphere.

 Main zero-carbon bunker fuel options for shipping



 ICS’s proposal to 1st global carbon levy to speed up industry decarbonisation

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), which represents the world's national shipowners' associations and more than 80% of the world's merchant fleet, addressed the United Nations (UN) on 3 September 2021 regarding the imposition of a global tax on carbon emissions from ships. In the submitted proposal, ICS called for an internationally accepted market-based measure to accelerate the use of zero-carbon fuels.

According to the documents given to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the regulatory agency of the United Nations regarding maritime transport, the carbon tax will be levied according to the emissions per ton from ships over 5,000 gross tons and used for global trade. The money collected will be used within the scope of the IMO Climate Fund to close the price gap between zero carbon and fossil fuels, as well as to establish fuel infrastructures that will provide fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia that will ensure the green transition process of the sector in both developed and developing economies.

As the shipping industry accounts for around 2.5% of global carbon emissions, the IMO has stated that urgent action is needed towards decarbonisation. The industry thinks that zero carbon ships cannot be produced before 2030. However, at the current production rate, zero carbon fuels cannot meet the levels needed by the global ship fleet. With the proposed carbon levy, it is aimed to accelerate the creation of a market for the implementation of zero-emission maritime transport.

How did Maritime Industry work on preventing pollution from ships past 50 years?


  • IMO adopted the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL, 1972)

- Annex I  Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Oil (entered into force 2 October 1983)
- Annex II  Regulations for the Control of  Pollution by Noxious Liquid Substances in Bulk  (entered into force 2 October 1983)
- Annex III Prevention of Pollution by Harmful Substances Carried by Sea in Packaged Form (entered into force 1 July 1992)
- Annex IV Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships  (entered into force 27 September 2003)
- Annex V Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships (entered into force 31 December 1988) 
- Annex VI Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships (entered into force 19 May 2005)


  • The Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) was made mandatory for new ships and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) for all ships at MEPC 62 (July 2011) with the adoption of amendments to MARPOL Annex VI, by Parties to MARPOL Annex VI. This was the first legally binding climate change treaty to be adopted since the Kyoto Protocol.

What should we focus on?

There is no simple or single answer to the question of how to achieve sustainability in the international shipping sector. However, there is a great belief that practical solutions will be brought through large and important conferences such as COP26.

However, although achiving the zero-emission in the shipping industry idea is desirable, there are some questions that are needs to be answered: how the required technologies and cleaner fuels will be developed; who will provide the infrastructure to roll it out; What kind of incentive will countries provide to companies, whose policy will be applied, what is the realistic expectations; what will the cost be and who will pay for it? 


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