Ocean shipping is leaving a massive carbon footprint behind
Maritime shipping, the lifeblood of global trade that is usually hidden from public view, has been thrown into the headlines due to global supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. Long delays at ports around the world, skyrocketing freight prices, and the occasional massive ship stuck in a strategically vital canal have finally given this essential industry attention from the media and consumers, albeit not for the most positive reasons.
This unfortunate spotlight gives us an opportunity to draw awareness to important issues in the maritime industry, including its massive carbon footprint. It also offers a chance to showcase the important work being initiated today by a group of climate-leading consumer goods and retail companies that are standing up to call for faster decarbonization of ocean transportation. Not only are they calling for policymakers and others in the shipping value chain to take action, but they are also setting ambitious targets of their own. Their ambition is the uplifting part of the story. The Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program (EEP) is honored to be a part of this historic and urgent moment.
In 2020, EEP launched the Aspen Shipping Decarbonization Initiative (SDI) to address the mighty challenge of maritime shipping decarbonization. Through conversations with leaders in shipping, it became clear that there was a need to engage shipping’s customers, in particular climate-leading cargo owners, to help accelerate the pace of change. Multinational cargo owners then helped us understand the levers they can pull. These include sending demand signals for the rapid deployment of new zero-carbon shipping fuels and technologies that are in urgent need of a boost, bringing to the table their own expertise in problem-solving and scaling solutions, and advocating for policy solutions that can reduce cost and regulatory barriers to a speedy transition. But first, they told us they needed a sense of common purpose, a target around which they could start to rally.
How should we proceed from here?
To create a space for them to do this work, Aspen SDI began to work closely with a network of cargo owner companies to develop a new initiative we call Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels or coZEV. It is a platform specifically for climate-forward cargo owners to develop concrete collaborative projects to advance zero-carbon solutions. This work puts the high ambition cargo owners’ role and interests at the center.
Today, coZEV is pleased to publicly announce its inaugural act: a first-of-its-kind ambition statement, signed by nine multinational companies, that states their intention to transition all of their ocean freight to zero-carbon shipping by 2040. Through this coZEV 2040 Ambition Statement, they define zero carbon as fuels that release no (or very little) greenhouse gases from a lifecycle perspective.
2040 may seem far away, but experts in this hard-to-abate sector know that vast new zero-carbon fuel supply chains must be built and numerous actors must come together to launch the first large scale projects—from financiers to fuel producers, ports to individual ship owners, carriers, and of course, their customers, the cargo owners whose business underpins the entire enterprise. They also know of the need for policy support, regulatory reforms, new fuel standards, updated procedures and protocols necessary to bring zero-carbon solutions to scale.
These experts also understand that the resources needed across the supply chain to enable zero-carbon shipping are an investment in our individual and collective futures, whose benefits far outweigh the costs of inaction to address climate change. And the savvy will see that there are new business opportunities to be had, and a chance for the maritime sector to support a just and equitable clean energy transition, one that protects the human rights of seafarers and creates new economic development opportunities around the globe.
And they are keenly aware that none of this work will advance on the timelines needed to avoid global climate disaster without cargo owner support. That is what makes this bold new statement so important.
A gigantic effort needs a gigantic investment
The resources needed across the supply chain to enable zero-carbon shipping are an investment in our individual and collective futures.
Together, these companies are committing to aligning their ocean shipping with the 1.5°C goal, and are sending a critical demand signal for the adoption of zero-carbon fuels. They are helping to lead and shape a movement where sustainability-minded consumers begin to expect the goods they purchase every day to arrive at their local store or doorstep without polluting the planet. As new companies become interested in decarbonizing this part of their supply chains, they will recognize that as cargo owners, they can drive the change needed through collaboration with supply chain partners and peers. Fortunately, through coZEV, cargo owners now have a platform for creative, collaborative problem solving to which they can turn and a 2040 ambition around which to organize.
Harnessing the momentum from today will be important, so Aspen SDI is working with partners to develop a series of follow-up collaborative actions and projects right away. By creating space for companies to work together on these ideas, we can help them shape the zero-carbon shipping transition to achieve both their climate and business goals.
Future projects include:
- Cargo owner-support for the first zero-carbon maritime shipping corridors
- New mechanisms for bringing together collective freight demand and achieve economies of scale for zero-carbon shipping
- Harnessing cargo owner voice to support public policies that will accelerate and lower the cost of the decarbonization transition
- Promoting new and improved tools for tracking shipping emissions data and fostering transparency
- With a sense of optimism and a commitment to practical, action-oriented collaboration, even the hardest to abate sectors like maritime shipping can be decarbonized in line with our shared Paris Agreement goals. We find inspiration in the companies that have joined our effort today, and look forward to engaging many others in the months and years ahead.