Shipping can reduce climate pollution and draw investment into developing countries

ships in port

International shipping can meet its target of at least halving its emissions by 2050, and can unleash trillions of dollars of investment opportunities in sustainable industrial infrastructure – particularly in developing countries – by using clean fuel such as “green” ammonia, as long as the fuel is produced using untapped renewable potential without increasing fossil fuel use, according to a new paper from Environmental Defense Fund Europe.   

Sailing on Solar identifies green ammonia, a fossil fuel substitute that does not produce greenhouse gas emissions when used by ships, as one of the most promising of several potential shipping fuels that produce zero emissions. Green ammonia can offer a climate solution if it can be produced at scale using abundant untapped renewable energy resources without increasing fossil fuel use, and can be used in modified shipping engines and hydrogen fuel cells.

“Emissions-free shipping can be the engine that drives green development across the world,” Aoife O’Leary, senior legal manager at Environmental Defense Fund Europe, said. “The abundance and falling costs of untapped renewable resources like solar and wind energy in developing countries make the production of maritime fuels that emit no greenhouse gases a big potential investment opportunity where such production is undertaken by additional renewable capacity. And shippers can look forward to future running on the air, water, wind and sunlight that go into manufacturing new fuels like green ammonia.”

The paper, researched and written by global sustainability consultancy Ricardo Energy and Environment, assessed the feasibility and potential for making green ammonia a viable bunker fuel.

The UN’s shipping agency, the International Maritime Organisation, is currently considering new policies to help it reach its global climate goal of cutting its emissions in half in meetings in London May 7-17. Done correctly, by ensuring robust international and full life cycle accounting and production undertaken through investment in additional renewable energy capacity, the IMO can help to overcome the major financial hurdles to the production of sustainable alternative fuels at scale for shipping and unlock trillions of dollars of new investment.     

The paper also analysed issues around the potential supply of green ammonia – such as the construction of production plants and infrastructure – as well as the demand from the vessels themselves, including fuel transport and engine compatibility. The study demonstrates that countries with untapped renewable energy potential could benefit by establishing a green ammonia supply chain for the marine sector.

For example, green ammonia production could be developed in Morocco using its abundant renewable energy capacity. In addition, Morocco’s large commercial ports near important shipping lanes make the country well-suited to foster a green ammonia industry. This capacity can be used to attract investment in Morocco for renewable energy and green ammonia that otherwise would not happen.

“Countries must get serious about exploring international policies that can provide the incentive for alternative fuels like green ammonia and other sustainable shipping fuels to be adopted,” said O’Leary. “First movers will be able to benefit from investment in their economies towards additional renewable capacity whilst also gaining a competitive advantage as the shipping industry transitions to clean fuel. All that is needed to ensure this vision becomes reality is a sensible policy, including robust environmental safeguards, to allow the investment to flow.”

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