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Policy Memo: Establishing a Pacific Coast Framework For Sustainable Maritime Fuels

Goods that cross the ocean get crossed up in the supply crunch (photo courtesy Ana Ulin)

In Brief

This memo suggests establishing a West Coast way to decarbonize meaningful parts of shipping. 

Its author works for the Port of Seattle and knows the territory. 

Regional solutions like the one sketched here can unleash investment while national politics move more slowly. 

Maritime shipping represents 3% of global GHG emissions, an amount equivalent to the eighth largest country globally (International Maritime Organization, 2021), and there is much to be determined with regard to fuel and vessel technologies and alignment with science based targets. Sector complexity, a wide range of costs for alternative fuels, undeveloped supply chains, and low technology readiness levels are critical challenges (Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Center, 2021). This is further complicated by a lack of industry consensus about common fuel pathways (ibid). The International Maritime Organization (IMO), which regulates international shipping, has established targets for shipping emissions, but current goals seeking a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050 are not in alignment with recognized requirements for emissions reduction. To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C and avoid the worst impacts of global climate change, additional measures are needed to de-risk investments and accelerate innovation, clean fuel production, and infrastructure development.
The Pacific Coast of North America is home to five of the 10 largest continental ports, more than 55 million people and an economic output of $3 trillion (Pacific Coast Collaborative, 2022). Collaboration on the scale of the Pacific Coast can provide a cohesive approach to maritime industry decarbonization to help drive international standards. The Port of Seattle can lead by calling for a Joint Framework on Paris Agreement-aligned Sustainable Maritime Fuels among Pacific Coast states and provinces, activating regional technical expertise and sending a clear signal in support of advanced timelines for zero emission fuels and vessel technologies.
Poised for Action - Zero Carbon Shipping Initiatives and West Coast Leadership
According to the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moeller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping, five key categories of action will drive emissions reduction in the maritime industry (Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Center, 2021). These include:

  • Policy and regulation, including carbon pricing and efficiency requirements
  • Technological advancements for deep sea vessels
  • Scaling of known but not commercially scaled fuel technologies
  • Increased customer demand and willingness to pay for carbon reduction
  • Lowering the finance cost for vessel and infrastructure assets

While a number of zero-carbon fuel pathways are developing (Englert, Losos, Raucci, & Smith, 2021), the maritime industry is poised for action. Maritime vessel owners, ports, financiers, renewable energy developers, fuel suppliers, cargo owners and technology providers have adopted Paris Agreement-aligned GHG targets and are signatory to the Global Maritime Forum’s Call for Action for Shipping Decarbonization (Global Mariime Forum, 2022). At the 26th Conference of Parties (COP) in Glasgow, Scotland, 22 countries, including the United States, signed the Clydebank Declaration to establish partnerships among ports and supply chain actors to build “green shipping corridors” to enable zero-emissions shipping.  Along the Pacific Coast, the Port of Seattle and Port of Los Angeles have partnered with the maritime industry and are leading efforts to establish the nation’s first zero-emissions corridors from Washington to Alaska and California to Shanghai, China (Port of Seattle, 2022) (C40 Cities, 2022).
As a region, the Pacific Coast provides a regional market and industry position of significance.  The region represents the world’s fifth largest economy (Pacific Coast Collaborative, 2022), North America’s largest cargo operations and coveted gateways to the Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico cruise markets. Political leadership in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California is strongly aligned on ambition for expedient climate action along with market-based carbon pricing, common GHG reduction targets, and a range of complementary strategies. Combined with industry commitments to Paris-aligned targets, there is broad public and private maritime sector support for climate ambition.
A Framework for Collaboration – The Pacific Coast Collaborative
As a collaboration of west coast states and provinces, the Pacific Coast Collaborative provides a natural home for a joint framework on sustainable maritime fuels. The Collaborative dates to 2013 with success in establishing emissions reduction partnerships crossing state and international boundaries. The Collaborative’s Action Plan on Climate and Energy identifies support for emerging maritime industry markets, streamlined permitting for clean energy infrastructure and “an integrated West Coast market for low-carbon fuels that keeps dollars in the region, creates economic development opportunities for regional fuel production, and ensures predictability and consistency in the market” (Pacific Coast Collaborative, 2013).
Recommendations – Five Elements
Five key elements are recommended to drive Pacific Coast maritime decarbonization:

  • A common vision and targets for sustainable maritime fuels in alignment with science based targets sends a clear market signal to supply chain actors for increased climate ambition.
  • Protocols for measurement and reporting of fuel users, fuel production and carbon intensity in alignment with international protocols supports transparency, performance measurement and market data vital to private sector innovation.
  • Harmonized and expanded low carbon fuels standards and carbon pricing mechanisms to include maritime fuels creates new funding streams for incentives for clean maritime fuels and vessel technology adoption as well as investments in near-port communities
  • Harmonized and streamlined permitting for zero emissions fuel infrastructure reduces barriers and advances timelines for fuel supply chain development.
  • Safety and operational standards, training and education for regulators, operators and the public helps ensure consistent application of standards and protection of communities adjacent to ports and alternative fuel infrastructure.