How green corridors might help us understand the socio-economic and broader environmental aspects of the transition to zero carbon shipping

By Kjersti Aass United Nations Global Compact, Elizabeth Petit Sustainable Shipping Initiative and Anne Katrine Bjerregaard Mærsk Mckinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping | December 6, 2023

Transitioning to zero and near-zero emission economies is at the core of addressing the three planetary crises outlined by the UN: climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution currently underway. However, decarbonization cannot be treated in isolation. As recognized in the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, “ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

Shipping is deeply integrated in 80 percent of global trade flows and therefore a central part of the necessary systems change towards zero and near-zero emission economies. But the shipping industry can only truly succeed with decarbonization if the socio-economic and broader environmental impacts of the transition are adequately understood and addressed.

In July 2023 the International Maritime Organization agreed on a 2023 greenhouse gas strategy signaling early industry commitment to phasing out GHG emissions from international shipping as well as promoting a just and equitable transition.

What does Just and Equitable mean in a shipping context?

The International Labour Organization defines a just transition as “greening the economy in a way that is as fair and inclusive as possible to everyone concerned, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind”. In their ‘Introduction to just transition – a business brief’, the UN Global Compact further explores how the private sector can “help achieve a just transition through own policies and strategies, but also by advocating for a public policy environment which is conducive to a just transition for all”.

This ambition is further detailed in the context of shipping by UNCTAD and UCL in an article published in 2022 outlining the elements of what a just and equitable transition could entail for maritime. The authors argue that a just and equitable transition for the shipping industry should be socially just, globally equitable, technologically inclusive, and procedurally fair: “a globally equitable transition considers disparities between nations and whether action taken to address climate change would exacerbate or explicitly seek to mitigate them.”

Green corridors is a concept that is still somewhat maturing and is, until now, predominantly focused on demonstrating the technical and regulatory feasibility of low- or zero carbon shipping, why does it make sense to expand scope?

As recognized by the increasing number of signatories to the Clydebank Declaration a key accelerator of early transition is green shipping corridors – large scale demonstration projects that enable sustainable shipping solutions in and between selected ports. Once operational, green corridors can speed up the development of alternative fuel supply chains and new business models across the maritime ecosystem. Green corridors have the potential to strengthen the confidence in the feasibility of green shipping solutions and catalyze global action towards the energy transition.

However, green corridors can demonstrate more than the technical and regulatory feasibility. In fact, due to their systems perspective and involvement of stakeholders across the value chain as well as national and/or regional authorities, they are uniquely positioned to act as demonstration projects for socio-economic and environmental impact. By expanding the scope of work, we can use green corridors to help us understand how the transition might impact the people and communities involved, and how we can leverage the energy transition to ensure sustainable development across several dimensions.

Can green corridors help assess and unlock benefits for countries in support of their wider transition aims?

To keep a 1.5*C in sight, we need to urgently cut emissions across all sectors including shipping. However, it must be done in a sustainable way. This requires awareness of the socio-economic and broader environmental risks and opportunities as mentioned above, but it also requires a truly global approach.

In addition, and as we navigate the transition away from fossil fuels, it is crucial to reflect on and address the existing injustices embedded in today’s global economy, such as unequal access to energy, food and water, economic disparities between the Global South and Global North, and social inequities.

Applying a just and equitable transition lens to green corridors will help stakeholders shape a transition that not only mitigates negative impact but also ensures that the benefits of green shipping corridors are shared inclusively across communities and nations. Green corridors can help unlock benefits for countries – such as accelerating the development of sustainable fuel production, enabling knowledge and technology transfers, building local capacity and creating green jobs, supporting a country’s wider transition aims, and improving access to clean energy. This is particularly true for many developing countries placed in areas with an abundance of solar or wind.

How do you envision green corridor consortia to integrate a just and equitable lense in their respective projects?

We hope that the report ‘Tides of Change: a Framework for Developing Just and Inclusive Green Shipping Corridors’ can help create awareness and that the concrete recommendations included can help shape the conversation between consortia members – public and private. We also hope that, inspired by the report, future green corridor projects will adopt our ambition of consciously pursuing synergies across socio-economic and broader environmental aspects as well as mitigate potential risks.

For a green corridor to unleash its full potential, it is key that just and equitable does not become an afterthought. The approach and awareness must be integrated throughout the development phases of a green corridors. It is evident that this requires significant collective action, but also that the benefits of this approach will spread far beyond the shipping industry benefiting individuals, communities, and countries.

The seafarers will play a key role in green corridors and a decarbonized shipping industry in general. What is concretely being done in the industry to ensure the seafarers are ready? 

The Maritime Just Transition Task Force – a cooperative undertaking by UN Global Compact, ILO, IMO, ICS and ITF, and a first of its kind in any industry – has announced a new training project that will prepare seafarers for the new fuels: ammonia, methanol, and hydrogen. Lloyd’s Register will deliver the training framework for seafarers and officers, as well as an instructor handbook for maritime training institutions, and the World Maritime University will provide academic expertise and lead a train-the-trainer programme trial roll-out. Lloyd’s Register Foundation and IMO are the primary funders, and several organizations will contribute with their expertise. 800,000 seafarers may require additional training by the mid-2030s in order to operate vessels. The project aims to utilize the combined strengths of the global maritime community and puts seafarers at the heart of the solution.

The report ‘Tides of Change: a Framework for Developing Just and Inclusive Green Shipping Corridors’ was released on 4 December 2023 during COP28



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