The goals of decarbonising maritime transport

The maritime transport sector – an invisible backbone of our global economy – accounts for 3% of total global carbon emissions. This industry is tackling the climate emergency with a growing sense of urgency and optimism, even as it deals with the disruption of the global economy. However, optimism must be translated into action. Acting now means embracing the full range of existing innovative tools available to reduce carbon emissions.

The International Maritime Organization and the European Commission are the two major institutional forces capable of guiding the roadmap for the maritime sector. However, responsibility is shared across the entire value chain: shipyards, shipowners, equipment manufacturers, class companies, etc. Some private players in the marine industry are one step ahead, calling for ambitious measures such as a carbon tax. Others are working towards accelerated decarbonisation by developing innovative technologies to address the colossal challenges ahead, mainly climate change.

Sunset seen from the "Ville de Bordeaux" roll-off ship.

Towards 17% of global emissions in 2050?

Maritime freight is constantly increasing. In fact, the International Maritime Organization envisages the probability that the share of transport by sea will double by 2050, potentially reaching 17% of global emissions. In addition to the catastrophic consequences of fossil fuel pollution on the seabed and ocean biodiversity, emissions of the three most toxic greenhouse gases for the planet (CO2, methane and nitrogen oxide) must be immediately curbed before the arrival on the market of new fuels, which will not be available to all ships in sufficient quantities for another ten years.

Current regulations

The global maritime sector is currently regulated by the International Maritime Organization and the European Commission. Both institutions are determined to play leading roles with a clearly stated ambition to decarbonise the sector.

International Maritime Organisation (IMO)

The IMO set binding targets in 2018 with a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, and a 50% reduction in all greenhouse gases by 2050.

These targets will be translated into short, medium and long-term measures. Recently the IMO has already adopted measures, including the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), which is mandatory for new ships, and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP).

The European Commission

The European Commission, for its part, announced major ambitions for the maritime sector in 2019 with its Green Pact, which aimed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and, consequently, a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for maritime companies. It took an important step at the end of 2022 by integrating the maritime sector into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). For the first time, this decision obliges ship operators to pay for their carbon emissions.

Sunset and horizon at sea.
Crédits : PolaRYSE / Brian Carlin
Photo credit : PolaRYSE / Brian Carlin
Seawing on the Ville de Bordeaux.
Credits: PolaRYSE
Photo credit : PolaRYSE

Immediate solutions to decarbonise international shipping

To meet these reduction targets, the industry can significantly reduce its emissions now, thanks to the plethora of innovative energy efficiency and renewable propulsion technologies that are commercially available and ready for deployment. Designed by Airseas, Seawing aims to reduce fuel consumption and emissions from ships through wind propulsion. Other clean technologies offer significant reductions; some are optimized for specific ship types and operational contexts.