National and regional policy for international shipping decarbonisation

The introduction of the FuelEU maritime initiative, the inclusion of shipping in the EU Emission Trading Scheme, and the launch of the Clydebank Declaration for green shipping corridors have set a precedent for a new type of national and regional action for shipping decarbonisation and challenged the long-standing assumption that international shipping lies outside of the jurisdictions of individual countries. In this insight brief, we argue that more countries can support international shipping’s transition to zero emissions, that the options for meaningful contributions by governments are plentiful, and that the policy pathway for each country is determined by a combination of the nation’s strengths, ambitions, and current and envisioned place in the global shipping ecosystem.

February 01 2024

The non-linear nature of technological transitions, in which the speed of adoption follows an S-curve rather than a straight line, means that the policy needs shift over time.

Different countries may be more equipped to tackle different stages of the transition and may see their role as primarily supporting the emergence, diffusion, and/or reconfiguration phases. For example, being a first-mover country is often a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Through research and development and market formation policies, the collective actions of first-mover countries steer which technologies are ready for widespread adoption. For these countries, the speed of mobilising funding to support early technological development often represents a key success factor.

Countries can also differentiate their contributions to international shipping decarbonisation based on their current and envisioned roles in the global shipping ecosystem. Each of these potential roles comes with its own incentives, trade-offs, and policy measures (see full insight brief for descriptions of each profile).

Decarbonisation brings shipping, an industry simultaneously intertwined with the global economy and often marginalised in policy decisions at national and global levels, closer to other sectors. It is increasingly clear that international shipping cannot only be a beneficiary of the global energy transition but must also play an active role in shaping its pace and direction. Likewise, shipping may act as a catalyst for modernising international trade regulations and spurring innovations applicable to other sectors. For countries active in these spaces, international shipping may not be a strategic priority as such, and there may be limited understanding of its potential to deliver on other strategic objectives. Extending the reach of national policies to international shipping is, therefore, often hindered by poor institutional capacity and a lack of understanding of these linkages.

The successful decarbonisation of international shipping requires a shift in the maritime policy narrative across a variety of countries. It demands a step up in the level of ambition among countries with strong maritime profiles as well as bold and rapid action from new entrants. But it also creates a unique set of challenges, such as those related to the need to coordinate policies on multiple levels, reform governance processes within countries, and establish strong accountability and transparency frameworks.

Read the full insight brief here

This insight brief is the second in a series of publications on national policy for international shipping decarbonisation – an overview of how countries can support the different stages of the transition towards zero emissions and thus complement private sector and global efforts. The first insight brief, focusing on national support for green shipping corridors, can be found here. 

The views expressed in this Insight are those of the author alone and not necessarily those of the Global Maritime Forum. Excerpts may be published with reference to the Global Maritime Forum.

Stay informed