A view of the prosperous future from the deck of a zero emissions ship

Energy Sector Transitions
ship at sunset

It’s 1 January 2050 and I am the eMayflower arriving into San Antonio port in Chile. As I sail along the coast in my approach to the port I pass banks of solar panels and giant wind turbines turning in the breeze and I know they are working to produce the fuel I will need for my return journey to Singapore – I run on “green hydrogen”, a fuel produced from new sources of renewable energy in Chile and other countries around the world.

I’ve been sailing this route (and others) for about 25 years now and the change I’ve seen during those years is truly remarkable. The port cities I’ve come to know have become healthier and more prosperous. With ships using fuel derived from renewable energy, the emissions from shipping that caused air pollution and contributed to climate change have virtually disappeared. In place of those emissions are solar farms, wind turbines and other clean sources of energy, mainly in developing countries invested in by green financiers from across the world.

It’s lucky it turned out this way. For many years, there was very little progress on getting the necessary policies in place to allow me to run on zero emissions fuel. However, in 2019, the maritime nations of the world began to discuss incentives for alternative fuels at the International Maritime Organization (IMO).  It was clear that policy could drive the necessary technical and economic change for shipping’s climate transition.

In 2018 the International Panel on Climate Change released their seminal report on the consequences of climate change, and showed that global warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures in order to limit the damage. Building on that at New York Climate Week in 2019, a large section of the shipping industry came together under the leadership of the Global Maritime Forum (GMF) to announce that they are working to move to alternative fuels for shipping. Following these announcements political will was galvanised so that in 2023 a carbon price was introduced on shipping greenhouse gas emissions. The money collected was put into a fund that was distributed around the world in investments in zero emissions shipping. The robust policy of the IMO to decarbonize shipping and the related carbon price underpinning the fund kick-started shipping’s transition to alternative fuels.

There were of course a number of challenges to overcome including deciding on a transparent and fair way of distributing investments and ensuring alternative fuels are safe and that all emissions during the full production cycle are accounted for.  But once the political will was in place, these were quickly overcome with sensible policy solutions.

I was commissioned by an Egyptian shipowner, built in China, using technology and engineering from Europe. My first journey was actually the reverse of the journey I’m doing now – from Chile to Singapore, with Chile being one of the first countries to fully utilize the fund to build out their renewable capacity specifically for shipping. They took advantage of their huge capacity for renewable sources, mainly in the Atacama Desert and along the coastline, making the most of their solar and wind generation potential of 1,261 GW and 36 GW respectively. As the national demand of energy (averaging 25GW in 2050) can now be covered by just a third of the installed capacity of renewables, that additional renewable energy which would otherwise be curtailed is instead being used to produce hydrogen for shipping fuel (among other uses) which is now available in every Chilean port.

As a first mover they were able to capture investment and learning that brought development and reduced pollution at Chilean ports. But this future was only possible with the far sighted leadership of the maritime nations of the world in the International Maritime Organisation that brought their ambition together into concrete policy at the IMO. Without this the prosperous future I am a part of would not exist.