Joining the green routes at sea

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Joining the green routes at sea

Yeom Jeong-hoon

The author is director of maritime affairs at Solutions for Our Climate, an NGO in Korea.

Maritime routes make up 90 percent of international trade and Korea relies on them for a whopping 99.5 percent of its exports and imports. That means ocean transport is the lifeline of the Korean economy and the world’s economy. Korea is a maritime power. It moved up to seventh place with its total fleet value ($58 billion) overtaking the UK’s last year; fourth in container port traffic (TEU); and first in shipbuilding.

Such domination of sea transport naturally involves tremendous greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN body responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships, ocean transport takes up about three percent of global gas emissions. If you rank Korea based on the amount of emissions in sea transport, the country ranked sixth. If you leave such emissions unattended, they are expected to skyrocket to 17 percent by 2050.

The IMO set a plan to cut the emissions by half the levels of 2008 by 2050. But the target falls far short of the Paris Agreement to achieve net zero emissions around the mid-century to meet the 1.5°C global warming target.

In Korea, related industry and government agencies are endeavoring to meet the requirement for the 50 percent cut in emissions by 2050. Local shipbuilders are developing vessels using alternative fuels and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries announced a roadmap in January for carbon neutrality by 2050, including developing low-emission transport vessels and eco-friendly marine fuel. But unfortunately, a detailed map on cooperating with other IMO member countries to cut maritime emissions is missing.

If Korea only concentrates on achieving the 50 percent cut target by 2050, it could lose its international maritime competitiveness as the United States and the European Union (EU) are demanding the IMO lift the target to zero emissions by 2050. The EU is also pushing for legislation aimed at cutting emissions by 55 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 to help achieve the net zero goal by 2050.

The United States has preemptively proposed to establish so-called zero-emission maritime routes to help achieve the net-zero goal by 2050. When ships use those routes, they must use clean maritime fuels such as methanol or ammonia or low-emission fuels. Ports straddling the routes are also required to employ technology to reduce emissions.

The emissions issue with global maritime shipping can hardly be resolved by each individual country. That’s why 24 countries including the U.S. and the UK reached the Clydebank Declaration in the 2021 UN climate change conference (COP26) in Glasgow to establish green shipping corridors, or zero-emission routes, between two or more ports. The signatories of the declaration pledged to create at least six green routes by 2025 and more by 2030 between themselves.

Each signatory also agreed to establish green routes fast on individual levels. At the forefront of the crusade are the U.S. and China, as seen in the deal between the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Shanghai earlier this year to create an eco-friendly route between them. In terms of TEU, the Shanghai port ranked first in the world and the L.A. port first in the U.S. The two cities decided to draw stakeholders such as shippers and carriers to the move to help reduce emissions.

That’s not all. Early August, the Port of Singapore, No. 2 in the world, and the Port of Rotterdam, No. 10, exchanged an MOU for the world’s longest sea route to open in 2027. In the second UN Oceans Conference in Lisbon in July, the U.S. proposed to Korea to create a green maritime route between Seattle, ranked first in U.S. Northeast, and Busan, ranked sixth in the world.

If Korea does not join helping achieve the net zero goal by 2050, it can lose its export competitiveness in the face of ever-toughening regulations. Given the massive impact of maritime transport on our ports and shipbuilding industries, Korea must participate in the U.S.-led campaign to establish green maritime routes.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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