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Four ways to reduce climate pollution from shipping in the Belt and Road Initiative

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EDF's energy experts discuss how to accelerate the transition to a clean, low-carbon energy economy. Guided by science and economics, EDF tackles urgent threats with practical solutions. Founded...

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  • Dec 15, 2021
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By EDF Blogs

By Catherine Ittner and Hongming Liu

Despite global efforts to address the climate crisis, the shipping sector is on track to increase its global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions up to 10% by 2050 – unless countries take urgent action.

China’s effort to increase investment and economic collaboration by building the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road – otherwise known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – is a great opportunity for countries to cooperate on decarbonizing shipping. The sea routes that make up the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which sail through Southeast Asia to South Asia, the Middle East and Africa, are critical to the success of international trade in the region — but the ships that travel these routes are significant sources of greenhouse gases.

Environmental Defense Fund contributed to a new BRI report, which highlights innovative ideas and low-carbon technologies that can cut shipping pollution and help China and other BRI countries meet their climate goals.

Need to decarbonize

Despite an urgent need to reduce GHG emissions in the shipping industry, many countries do not prioritize climate policies for shipping. Twenty-three countries are part of the Maritime Silk Road – but only five of them have incorporated the shipping industry into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), the efforts by each country to reduce national emissions.

The BRI International Green Development Coalition “aims to establish a policy dialogue and communication platform, an environmental knowledge and information platform, and a green technology exchange and transfer platform” to help ensure a green and sustainable BRI, including by decarbonizing shipping. EDF, along with Equitable Maritime Consulting, got the chance to contribute research to the BRI International Green Development Coalition’s new report on maritime connectivity and green development.

Policy recommendations

The report lays out four key policy recommendations to advance green shipping:

  1. Monitoring: Establishing a monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) framework for international shipping within BRI. A comprehensive, effective monitoring and evaluation system is critical to ensuring that efforts aimed at reducing GHG pollution achieve results. BRI countries involved in international shipping should jointly implement a framework and data-sharing platform to monitor, report and verify the data related to GHG mitigation programs. Countries could then leverage the data collected to gather support for environmental financing of the most cost-effective green shipping projects.
  1. Research: Setting up technical cooperation and a joint research program for assessing the potentials for zero-carbon alternative fuel production. To decarbonize fast enough, the shipping sector needs low-carbon alternative fuels that are economically viable. A joint research program should undertake a full life-cycle assessment of zero-emission fuels, as well as an analysis of the supply and demand of these fuels, that considers the specific conditions of BRI countries. With the aim to improve the economic viability of zero-emission fuels for BRI countries, further research can serve as a foundation for a long-term and cost-effective decarbonization strategy for maritime transport within BRI.
  1. Ports: Strengthening the research and application of low-carbon port technologies to promote the coordinated development of green port and green shipping. The development of green shipping is impossible without ports. Ports can adopt technology – like onshore power supply and ship-port interface – to reduce GHG emissions. Onshore power supply allows ships to turn off their engines and connect to the electricity grid, with the potential for significant reductions in climate and air pollution. Ship-port interface is a platform for data interconnection and communication that enables ports to improve the efficiency of terminals and reduce the turnaround time of ships at port. BRI countries can accelerate the decarbonization of shipping through the adoption of pollution-cutting port technologies like these.
  1. Incentives and carbon pricing: Develop a green shipping incentive program and explore carbon pricing mechanisms. The BRI can look into new ways to reduce emissions, like rewarding ships that have excellent operational carbon intensity ratings and considering a carbon pricing cooperation mechanism for international shipping. Both tools can promote more efficient and cleaner ships, as well as the use of alternative zero-emission fuels.

Given the urgency of the climate crisis, countries need to use every opportunity to collaborate toward decarbonizing shipping as soon as possible.

The well-designed policy suite outlined in BRI International Green Development Coalition’s new report drew a roadmap for BRI countries to spur innovation, deploy proven and cost-effective low-carbon technologies, and lead a green transition for the shipping industry. China and other BRI countries have an opportunity to model climate cooperation while pursuing economic success for the region, as well as having a ripple effect among the international community for facilitating multi-lateral cooperation.

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