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Inside the UK government's landmark Clean Maritime Plan

2019 has been a watershed year for climate policy in the UK. From parliament’s unprecedented declaration of a climate emergency in May, to the passing of a national target to reach net-zero emissions in June, events are moving very quickly indeed.

This month marks the release of the government’s Clean Maritime Plan. Like the net-zero target, the plan signals the UK’s willingness to lead the transition to a low carbon future. Its headline ambition is to ensure that all new ships ordered for use in UK waters are equipped with zero emission propulsion capability by 2025.

Given that the only truly zero emissions vessels in service today are experimental prototypes or sail-powered pleasure craft, the plan provides a rapidly accelerated timeline for emissions reduction within a challenging sector.

A range of other aspirational ambitions have also been specified for landmark dates through to 2050, backed by some short-term regulatory and funding commitments.

Briefly, here's what the plan is all about.

Why was the plan commissioned?

The Clean Maritime Plan was draw up by the Department for Transport and the Clean Maritime Council, an advisory body of industry stakeholders and academics tasked with overseeing its implementation. It was announced by the UK’s Maritime Minister, Nusrat Ghani MP.

The plan was preceded by the Maritime 2050 Strategy, released by the UK government in January. The Maritime 2050 Strategy offers up ten strategic objectives for the sector, one of which is clean growth.

The Clean Maritime Plan enlarges upon this objective, providing a “roadmap” for reducing shipping sector emissions. In terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the plan is intended to deliver on the IMO’s GHG Strategy, which aims to achieve a 50% reduction in maritime CO2 emissions by mid-century.

Airborne pollutants with adverse impacts on human health, such as NOx and particulate matter, also fall within the scope of the plan. In this respect it is complementary to the UK Government’s Clean Air Strategy.

What are the ambitions of the plan?

The plan provides three sets of aspirational ambitions for the years 2025, 2035 and 2050.

By 2025, the plan states that all vessels in UK waters will have maximised their use of energy efficiency measures. All new vessels designed for use in UK waters will be equipped with zero emission propulsion capability.

The plan does not specify whether these vessels will need to exclusively consume zero emissions fuels in order to be considered zero emission capable, nor does it provide a minimum threshold for the consumption of zero emissions fuels. When contacted by KNect365, the Department for Transport were not able to provide more detail.

By 2025, the UK will also have begun developing certain ports and coastal localities into “clean maritime clusters”, which will foster innovation and provide zero emission infrastructure. These clusters will be developed in tandem with projects affecting other transport nodes, and close to areas expected to have available renewable energy or alternative fuel production.

By 2035, the clusters will have been completed, and low or zero emissions marine fuel bunkering infrastructure will be widely available across the UK.

By 2050, the hope is that zero emissions shipping will be internationally prevalent. Thanks to its speedy adoption of the next generation of marine propulsion technologies, the UK will have established itself as a global leader in the clean shipping industry.

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What is the scope of the plan?

Currently, maritime GHG emissions from both domestic and international shipping account for 3.4% of the UK’s total. This compares to a global average of 2.2%.

Emissions from domestic shipping are included under the UK’s Climate Change Act, but international shipping is excluded.

Because the plan applies to all vessels within UK waters, it effectively extends the scope of the emissions challenge to international shipping as well.

Nonetheless, it stops short of recommending that international shipping be formally included within the net-zero legislation. Instead, the authors write that the government “will continue to leave ‘headroom’ for international shipping and aviation emissions in our carbon budgets.”

How will the plan affect the economy?

The maritime industry and its related sectors already form a substantial part of the UK economy. The Department of Transport estimates that the maritime industry contributes £14.5 billion of gross value added per year. It is directly responsible for the employment of 185,700 people.

Related business services, including marine insurance and shipbroking, bring a further £2 billion of GVA to the table.

The health costs of marine emissions are also considerable. The UK’s Clean Air Strategy aims to reduce the costs of air pollution by £1 billion per year by 2020, and by £2.5 billion from 2030 onwards.

Research commissioned by the government indicates that the global market for clean maritime technologies could reach £11 billion per year by 2050. The economic benefit to the UK from leading in this area could amount to £510 million per year.

Nonetheless, the authors of the plan argue that further consultation is required before economic incentives can be introduced to increase the availability of low carbon fuels. The concern is that such measures may adversely impact competitiveness or lead to other unintended consequences.

What technologies does the plan focus on?

The plan identifies several key areas of competence which the UK can build upon to help develop clean shipping.

The country is a leader in natural gas processing and reforming (the process by which natural gas can be converted into hydrogen, ideally in combination with carbon capture and storage). It currently has a 9% share of the global export market for reformer and CCS technologies.

The UK is also a hot spot for hydrogen produced directly via electrolysis and has a competitive advantage in producing marine batteries and electric engines.

Hydrogen adoption and electrification are both essential for deep-reaching reductions in emissions. The authors of the plan write that energy efficiency improvements, while important, are by themselves not sufficient to reduce emissions in line with the IMO’s goals.

What regulatory and funding commitments does the plan make?

The plan makes several funding commitments for the next few years, including £1.3 million to support clean maritime innovation through Maritime Research & Innovation UK, and seed funding for the Transport Technology Research Innovation Grant (T-TRIG) programme.

A competition for innovation in the clean shipping sector and the establishment of a Clean Maritime Award will also receive funding.

Alongside these commitments, the government hopes to solicit greater private sector involvement in financing clean maritime projects. A "Greening Finance/Financing Green" initiative will be launched at London International Shipping Week later this year.

From a regulatory perspective, the most important development is the creation of a Maritime Emissions Regulation Advisory Service, MERAS.

MERAS is intended to help assist shipping companies with navigating the complicated regulations for alternative technology design, a significant barrier to the adoption of zero emissions technologies.

It is hoped that providing regulatory support to innovators will attract clean shipping companies to the UK Ship Register, bringing further economic benefits.

The Clean Maritime Plan also lays out the Department of Transport’s areas of focus. For instance, a consultation will begin in 2020 on the feasibility of using the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) to stimulate the uptake of low carbon fuels.

At present the RTFO’s influence over the maritime sector only extends to fuel suppliers for inland shipping and recreational craft that do not normally operate at sea.

The 2020 consultation will determine whether the RTFO could be adapted to solve the problem of limited low carbon fuel uptake in the shipping industry.

2020 will also see a call for evidence on non-tax incentives as another way to support low carbon shipping.

Does the Clean Maritime Plan go too far, or not far enough? Is the goal for zero emissions propulsion capable vessels achievable by 2025? What is the plan missing? Let us know your thoughts on twitter: @KNectMaritime

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