“If Green Corridors succeed, in 2030 zero-emission shipping will be a commercially viable option anywhere”

Green Corridors are specific shipping routes where the feasibility of zero-emission shipping is catalyzed by a combination of public and private actions. Jesse Fahnestock, Head of Research and Analysis at the Global Maritime Forum, explains why Green Corridors are fundamental to Shipping’s Race to Zero. By Jesse Fahnestock, Head of Research and Analysis at the Global Maritime Forum | November 17, 2022

If we want to get the fuels, vessels and infrastructure scaled up and ready for mass-market rollout for shipping’s full decarbonization, we need to develop Green Corridors.

It’s been estimated that roughly 5% of shipping will need to be served by these zero-emission solutions by 2030 if the rapid transition to zero is to take off from there.

The idea of Green Corridors took root in the public consciousness at COP26 in Glasgow, with the signing of the Clydebank Declaration by governments and the publication of the report The Next Wave: Green Corridors, which described the concept in detail.

Since then, we’ve seen an explosion in interest and announcements, which the Global Maritime Forum is tracking in the Annual Progress Report on Green Shipping Corridors 2022.

More than 20 initiatives have been launched with more than 100 stakeholders involved, including on some of the world’s most important deep-sea routes. But it’s important to note that they are all at a quite early stage – only a handful have advanced far enough to begin feasibility assessments or implementation planning.

So why are these Corridors so important?

They’re about creating the right environment for the development and deployment of zero-emission shipping – fuels, technologies, infrastructure, business models, even rules and regulations – that will be needed for the long-term transition to a zero-emission sector.

One risk of this objective is that we focus too much on what emissions reductions these Corridors can achieve. Emissions reductions in the coming years should almost be a by-product: the main point is to lay the ground for the massive reductions that will happen once these solutions roll out globally.

One way to think about success is this: If the Green Corridors movement is truly successful, it should put itself out of business sometime around 2030. Because if Corridors succeed, in 2030 zero-emission shipping will be a commercially viable option that can be deployed anywhere, and not just on certain routes.

Opportunities & challenges

One of the main reasons to develop Green Corridors is that it creates the possibility to work on specific routes that are more feasible than others, whether because of economics or policy or existing momentum among stakeholders. Working on specific routes also means a limited number of cargo types, vessel types and port calls, for instance, which also makes it easier to commit to certain fuels and technologies.

Nonetheless, the development of a Green Corridor is still much more complex than developing a single pilot vessel or demonstration project. These are multi-stakeholder endeavours, involving multiple parts of the value chain and multiple competitors from each part. Building trust and creating the right governance structures is a big challenge, and that’s what many of the initiatives launched in 2022 have been focused on so far.

Learning by doing

There is a lot of interest in doing things in a standard and replicable way. That’s understandable – there are a lot of questions to be answered and having some off-the-shelf solutions would be nice. But it’s already clear — even at the design phase, and certainly at implementation — that many of the biggest challenges will be unique to the different corridor contexts.

Rather than try to develop a standard approach, Corridors need to embrace learning-by-doing. When those learnings are generated, they should be shared so that other Corridors and projects can benefit. Luckily there’s a lot of interest and willingness to network and share between the corridors.

Fortunately, engagement so far has been broad and deep. We’ve seen active leadership from governments, industry, ports, and research and third sector institutions. There’s a tremendous amount of energy and goodwill out there right now.

Green Corridors at COP27

Among other discussions, the 24 governments that have signed the Clydebank Declaration are marking its one-year anniversary by taking stock of progress so far, in part by discussing the Annual Progress Report on Green Shipping Corridors that the Global Maritime Forum and Getting to Zero Coalition are publishing.

The Zero-Emission Shipping Mission have also launched a Green Corridors Hub, with a set of useful tools for governments and companies who are interested in the topic. One of the most interesting is public-domain data set and evaluation method developed by University Maritime Advisory Services for the Getting to Zero Coalition. It’s introducing a new approach to deciding which routes are best suited to become Green Corridors.

The Road to COP28

I expect the frontrunners of the movement will have taken a leap forward, with implementation plans and roadmaps in place, joint ventures and project portfolios defined, for example. I also imagine a number of additional corridors will also join the movement.

One of the things we really hope to see by then is more and deeper engagement of cargo owners and future fuel producers in these initiatives. I think everyone recognizes how essential they are to the success of Green Corridors, but I think some of the initiative-takers have been uncertain of how to involve them. Sooner, rather than later is our view: otherwise, it’s going to be hard to define fuel pathways and develop innovative business models to test on these Corridors – and these will be just as important as technology and infrastructure.

Policy, will of course, be crucial. These corridors have shown that stakeholders from industry and government are willing to go first and take some risk. And while governments seem keen to develop a range of supportive policies, the big question remains whether they can and will help close the fuel cost gap for these first mover efforts.

National governments should take a look at how they can leverage national energy and hydrogen policies, ideally in a way that earmarks support specifically for the use of shipping fuels. Corridors can hopefully help ensure this support is put to targeted and efficient use.

Jesse Fahnestock is Head of Research and Analysis at the Global Maritime Forum, where he leads the work on First Movers towards Zero-Emission Shipping. Find out more here.