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As part of the global bid to tackle climate change, various environmental initiatives have been introduced over the last few decades to better protect our planet. Ranging from awareness campaigns to policies and regulations, efforts have focused on changing the habits and responsibilities of individuals, corporations and industries alike.

In this article, we look at one such specific initiative: the maritime energy transition.


What is the energy transition?


Energy transition is the term used to describe the shift away from using energy derived from fossil fuels (e.g. coal and oil) and towards energy generated using alternative renewable fuels (e.g. wind, solar) which produce limited or no carbon emissions and are therefore cleaner and more sustainable. Spurred on by fears over climate change, energy security and environmental sustainability, the energy transition aims to transform the world’s overall energy system.

While there have been various energy transitions in the past (e.g. the shift from using wood to coal in the 19th century), the one we see today is driven by an urgent need to protect the future of our planet. In 2015, the Paris Agreement (an international treaty aiming to limit climate change) was adopted by 196 parties. The goal of the treaty was to limit global warming and prevent the Earth’s temperature from increasing by any more than 1.5 °C. To achieve this requires meeting ambitious emissions reduction targets for all types of greenhouse gases, across all economic sectors, and in all parts of the world.

The energy transition is closely linked to the green transition. While some people use the two terms interchangeably, the green transition is best thought of as a subset of the energy transition. Where the energy transition deals with all elements of the energy system (e.g. electricity generation, transportation, heating, and industrial processes), the green transition has a more specific focus on improving the environmental sustainability of economic activities (e.g. global shipping) by reducing their carbon footprint.


Why is the energy transition relevant to the maritime industry? 


As with all forms of fossil-fuel powered transportation sectors, the shipping industry contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions. While shipping is the most carbon-efficient mode of transport, producing significantly less grams of CO₂ per tonne-km than air, road and rail travel, it is still responsible for around 2.3% of CO₂ of global emissions. 

Given international trade volumes are predicted to increase, the shipping industry is also forecast to grow - and more shipping activity means more greenhouse gas emissions produced by the sector. The maritime industry therefore faces a dilemma: how do we reduce shipping’s carbon footprint while the sector continues to grow? As a result of these pressures, we have seen an increasing focus on ensuring more sustainable shipping operations that bring down carbon emissions, and so lessen the environmental impact of the shipping industry as a whole.

While shipping was not included in 2015’s Paris Climate Agreement, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other regulatory bodies have introduced a variety of policies and targets to drive decarbonisation across the sector. One key piece of IMO regulation requires the shipping industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 (measured against 2008 levels). The energy transition is therefore highly relevant to the maritime industry as it is one of the ways in which the sector will meet these targets and play its part in helping to reduce climate change.


What is maritime decarbonisation? 


Maritime decarbonisation is a key element in the move towards greener shipping. The process aims to reduce the overall carbon emissions, and therefore the amount of greenhouse gases, produced by the global shipping industry as a whole. The ultimate goal of maritime decarbonisation is to ensure shipping plays its part in global plans to tackle climate change and limit the planet’s temperature rise to 1.5 °C. 

A core component of maritime decarbonisation is moving away from using carbon-intensive fossil fuels and instead opting for carbon-neutral or renewable fuels. Having said that, it is important to note that maritime decarbonisation goes beyond just looking at the emissions from vessels themselves; it addresses the entire commercial maritime ecosystem, including vessel operators, shipbuilding yards, equipment suppliers, partners and other stakeholders. As such, maritime decarbonisation ties together a range of new measures, developments, and innovations such as zero-carbon fuels, ammonia engines, and using software for more efficient journeys.