Photo: Illustration. Photo courtesy of the Port of Los Angeles

US steps up efforts to enable green shipping corridors

The United States has unveiled a framework document to advance domestic and international green shipping corridors, demonstrating clear ambitions to decarbonize maritime trade routes in the coming period.

Green shipping corridors
Illustration. Photo courtesy of the Port of Los Angeles

The move comes in support of the effort to achieve global net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by no later than 2050, and in support of the effort to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions from the international shipping sector by the same year.

In November 2021, the US was among nineteen countries that signed a declaration to establish green shipping corridors or zero-emission maritime routes between two or more ports in an effort to help the shipping industry decarbonize.

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“The United States welcomes and encourages the growing movement to establish green shipping corridors and calls on countries and value-chain actors around the world to adopt ambitious actions to implement green shipping corridors and to create a clean future for maritime transportation,” the US Department of State said in a statement.

GHG emissions from the shipping sector are significant and rising. Shipping would be the eighth largest emitter if it were a “country,” and by 2050, emissions from the sector are projected to increase by up to 50% from 2018 levels under a business-as-usual scenario. This trajectory is not compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

To support the effort to achieve global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050, the United States has committed to work with countries to reach zero emissions from international shipping by the same year.

In late January 2022, Los Angeles and Shanghai announced a partnership of cities, ports, shipping companies and a network of cargo owners to create a first-of-its-kind green shipping corridor on one of the world’s busiest container shipping routes. The initiative would decarbonise goods movement between the largest ports in the United States and China.

As explained, green shipping corridors can spur early and rapid adoption of fuels and technologies that, on a lifecycle basis, deliver low- and zero-emissions across the maritime sector, placing the sector on a pathway to full decarbonization.

“The United States envisions green shipping corridors as maritime routes that showcase low- and zero-emission lifecycle fuels and technologies with the ambition to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions across all aspects of the corridor in support of sector-wide decarbonization no later than 2050,” according to the statement.

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There are multiple pathways through which a fully decarbonized corridor can be achieved — the new US green shipping corridors framework therefore provides maritime stakeholders the flexibility to choose the path that best suits their needs.

There is a growing movement of countries and non-state actors that are focused on green shipping corridors. In addition, private sector actors, including major users of maritime shipping, are increasingly making climate commitments and seeking opportunities to decarbonize their supply chains.

The United States said it is partnering internationally, working on implementation domestically, and investing in the research and development needed to help ensure it has the solutions necessary to meet its commitments.

Within this growing movement, however, there is not yet a shared understanding of what it means for a maritime corridor to be “green”. The newly unveiled document is intended to contribute to a common vision of green shipping corridors and advance the effort to establish them across the ocean and along coasts and inland waterways, so that maritime stakeholders may act as a united front to tackle the climate crisis.

Charting a course for green shipping corridors

Achieving zero emissions from maritime transportation over the coming years and decades will require research, development, demonstration, and deployment at a massive scale, as well as enabling policies that incentivize the shift to low- and zero-emission fuels and technologies as soon as possible. Adoption of these fuels and technologies, while limited in the short term, will rapidly accelerate once the supply chain is established and governments and the shipping sector signal their intent for the energy transition.

Green shipping corridors are meant to accelerate this early adoption phase. They therefore should strive for emissions reductions that push the envelope beyond business-as-usual, demonstrating a commitment to achieve full decarbonization through sustained efforts.

Specifically, green shipping corridors will not achieve zero emissions across all aspects of the corridor overnight. Instead, the journey to establish a fully decarbonized corridor is a series of steps and actions taken over time to cover all aspects of the route.

Demonstrating progress and success

In the effort to confront the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and drive maritime emissions to zero, it is not enough to only announce intentions, according to the US Department of State.

Ports, carriers, and other actors in the value chain are encouraged to demonstrate progress, commitment, and accountability. Local and state governments, as well as the Federal Government, can help by convening stakeholders, enforcing regulations, and crafting policy that supports green corridor development.

All stakeholders are expected to share information on green corridor development on a regular basis and to be as transparent as possible in the data and information shared.

Moreover, participants in a green shipping corridor effort should be transparent not only about data but also about their role in the effort. As such, publicly available information should also include value-chain actors such as ports, terminal operators, vessel owners and operators, charter companies, beneficial cargo owners, and others such as logistics companies that are engaged in this effort.

Building blocks for green shipping corridors

Building on the planning process that should consider the needs and abilities of all corridor stakeholders, there are a number of building blocks for the implementation of green corridors to reach the goal of full decarbonization. 

Elements of this implementation process could include but are not limited to, the deployment and/or operation of:

  • Alternative refueling or recharging infrastructure to support zero emissions port and terminal equipment operations
  • Support vessels and commercial harbor craft using low- or zero-emissionfuels and technologies
  • Ocean-going vessels using low- or zero-emission fuels and technologies
  • Zero-emissions fuels, bunkering, and refueling capabilities for vesselsincluding electrification and cold ironing
  • Energy efficiency and operations optimization activities that lead to reduced overall energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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