More than 20 world leaders have signed a declaration to support the creation of “green shipping corridors” as the maritime industry navigates the net-zero ambitions of governments.

The Clydebank Declaration, signed at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow last week, will aim to establish “at least six green corridors”, which are defined as zero-emission maritime routes between two or more ports, by 2025.

A mission statement by the leaders reads: “It is our aspiration to see many more corridors in operation by 2030. We will assess these goals by the middle of this decade, with a view to increasing the number of green corridors.”

Signatories of the deal include Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, the UK and US. Many large exporting nations, including China and India, did not sign the pact, which could hamper cooperation on climate change along global and interconnected maritime supply chains.

Maritime transport is responsible for nearly 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN agency responsible for regulating shipping.

The corridors would be established through partnerships with port operators and other players along the value chain to decarbonise specific shared maritime routes. The statement adds that voluntary participation by operators will play a key part in making corridors successful.

A study, published on November 10 by NGO Global Maritime Forum and backed by industry, puts forward two options as potential starting points for the pact: the Australia-Japan iron ore route and the Asia-Europe container route. The findings suggest that both routes provide sufficient scale for impact and the “necessary specificity to enable a feasible, accelerated decarbonisation roadmap for the shipping industry”.

A third corridor – the Northeast Asia-US car carrier route – was also assessed. “On this route, there are significant opportunities for industry players to collaborate end-to-end across the value chain to reduce emissions, even before zero-emission fuels become available,” says the report. The three case studies were put together in consultation with more than 30 companies across the value chain.

In response to the declaration, Morten Bo Christiansen, vice-president and head of decarbonisation at shipping line Maersk, said: “This has to be ‘the decade of action’ and green corridors are the way to start acting here and now. They are an easy and fast way to set up platforms that enable all shipping companies to get started on the gradual transformation of the fuel logistics systems.”


Staying in lane

The data underpinning the declaration was analysed by University Maritime Advisory Services, which used satellite observations of vessels to understand operating patterns, in combination with models for estimating their fuel consumption, to identify which journeys might be easiest to decarbonise.

It noted, however, that the “ultimate” solution for shipping’s decarbonisation is IMO policy, which it says “can ensure both widespread and global implementation of GHG reductions in shipping, but also help ensure this happens equitably”.

An IMO spokesperson said initiatives such as the Clydebank deal are “welcome”. The organisation has already adopted measures to reduce emissions for shipping. In 2018, it set out ambitions to decrease the sector’s GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared with a 2008 baseline. It also aims to cut the carbon intensity of international shipping by 40% by 2030.

Others have warned that the success of the pact will depend on investment by governments rather than simply ambitious statements made on the world stage. Ben Murray, chief executive of trade body Maritime UK, said: “The Clydebank Declaration represents a step forward towards the decarbonisation of our sector, with a practical framework focusing on key trade routes.

“But its success will depend on government support and co-investment long after Cop26, so we can continue to research and develop the solutions we need to make a zero-emission shipping fleet a reality, alongside the infrastructure required to fuel the clean vessels of the future.”

The International Chamber of Shipping, a trade association, and industry partners have put forward a proposal for a US$5bn research fund to aid the development of zero-carbon ships. The fund, it said, would be financed by a mandatory levy of US$2 per ton on marine fuel, generating US$5bn over a 10-year period. It added the fund could be launched in 2023, but that governments must first accept the proposal.

Another point of friction for the industry is regional rules that do not cater to a global sector. In July, trade groups criticised the European Commission’s plan to levy a charge on GHG emissions by shipping companies via its Emissions Trading System. Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS, called the move a “pure money grab” and questioned the EU’s motive for the plan.