UK outlines next steps in net-zero maritime ambitions

The UK Government wants to lead the maritime decarbonisation race and has set £206m to do so, writes Gavin Lipsith

The UK’s shipping minister Robert Courts has revealed measures aimed at reaching net-zero emissions from domestic shipping by 2050, as well highlighting the country’s commitment to an equivalent target for international shipping.


The UK Department for Transport will extend its competition funding clean technology feasibility studies and demonstrators, open a centre for smart shipping, study green corridors on intra-UK shipping routes and deliver policies to ‘level up’ shipbuilding skills and capabilities. The initiatives are backed by a £206 million investment in the new UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions (UK SHORE).


Speaking to Fathom World, Courts described the measures as “the UK’s biggest ever investment in maritime” and part of “the most comprehensive national plan for maritime decarbonisation”.


“This is an exciting day,” he said. “Never has a strong maritime sector been more vital. Emissions for domestic shipping in the UK are higher than the combined emissions from buses and trains. It is vital that every sector plays its part in staying on track with the Paris Agreement. This project lays the foundation for the decarbonisation of the UK’s maritime sector.”

Clean technology demonstrators

While the details of many policies have yet to be announced, the Clean Maritime Demonstrator Competition (CMDC) is already yielding encouraging results. The first round concluded in late 2021 and projects were presented at a showcase event in Portsmouth this month (May 2022). Fifty-five feasibility studies and demonstrators – received a share of the £20 million funding to advance their projects over a seven-month period.


According to James Lovett, Innovation Lead – Future Maritime Technologies at Innovate UK, which coordinated the competition with the Department for Transport, the demonstrators developed under the project are already capable of reducing emissions by nearly two million tonnes of CO2 equivalents a year. At full scale this figure would reach nearly five million tonnes, equivalent to removing 200,000 cars from UK roads.


The next round of CMDC will distribute £12 million to winning projects. The selection will be made in July this year and results will be presented in September 2023. Future rounds of the competition will be operated on a multi-year basis to enable projects to develop full-scale demonstrators.

Green corridors

At COP 26, the UK co-sponsored the Clydebank Declaration, supporting the development of green corridors to facilitate the introduction of clean technologies on specific shipping routes. Courts revealed that UK SHORE will now explore the establishment of intra-UK green corridors, in conjunction with a zero-emission ferries study.


A further announcement later in the year will flesh out details of the green corridors project, as well as expanding on the commitment to open a centre for smart shipping known as CSMART, which was also announced at the Portsmouth event.



The UK will update its Clean Maritime Plan next year, with more policy and regulatory measures intended to help reach its 2050 target. A consultation on shore power – described by the minister as pivotal to the zero-emission ferry policy – concluded in April. A current consultation asks for input on the inclusion of domestic shipping in an emission trading scheme. And a further consultation to be published in the next few weeks will focus on the course to net-zero emissions

International shipping goals

The UK’s emission ambitions spread far beyond the “island nation”, said Courts. Referring to the impending IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee meetings in June, he said that the UK would be involved in driving forward IMO’s greenhouse gas ambition to a level matching the domestic target of net-zero emissions by 2050.


“We are proud to have the IMO in London and we are key member state. It’s important that international shipping plays its part in reducing emissions and we will be part of that drive.”


Discussing the prospect of governments regulating shipping emissions beyond sovereign waters – something mooted in a submission to MEPC 78 – Courts said it was difficult to discuss that particular idea, but that the UK would “consider all options” as it seeks to limit climate impact.


NOTE: A selection of the projects funded under the first CMDC rounds will be reviewed in a forthcoming article.

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