A Pathway to Decarbonise the Shipping Sector by 2050


October 2021
ISBN : 978-92-9260-330-4

Urgent action is needed to accelerate the pace of the global energy transition and the decarbonisation of the global economy. International shipping is a key sector of the economy, as much as 90% of worldwide trade is transacted via ocean going vessels. The sector is also one of the most challenging to decarbonise.

In this context, A Pathway to Decarbonise the Shipping Sector by 2050 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) analyses the technology readiness of the renewable fuels suitable for international shipping. This report also explores the options and actions needed to progress towards a decarbonised maritime shipping sector by 2050, and seeks to identify a realistic mitigation pathway to reach the climate goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C and bringing CO2 emissions closer to net zero by mid-century.

Key messages:

  • The sector’s decarbonisation strategy must involve a combination of energy efficiency and renewable fuels. Starting now, the active adoption of energy efficiency measures will be critical to reduce energy demand and thus CO2 emissions in the immediate term.
  • In the short term, advanced biofuels will play a key role in the reduction of CO2 emissions. In the medium and long-term, green hydrogen-based fuels are set to be the backbone for the sector’s decarbonisation.
  • Renewable e-ammonia will play a pivotal role; where 183 million tonnes of renewable ammonia for international shipping alone will be needed by 2050 - a comparable amount to today’s ammonia global production.
  • While renewable fuels production costs are currently high, in the next decades renewable fuels will become cost competitive and can shield the shipping sector from the volatility that characterises the fossil fuels market.
  • Taking early action is vital. Sector decarbonisation can be accelerated and ambition raised beyond the climate goals by fostering investment in the production of renewable fuels. Stakeholders need to develop broader business models and establish strategic partnerships involving energy-intensive industries, as well as power suppliers and the petrochemical sector.

IRENA’s report shows that with the right plans and sufficient support, the decarbonisation of the international shipping sector is viable.



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