The Rise of Low-Carbon Shipping in the Asia-Pacific Region

This 2024, high carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue to be one of the world’s most alarming problems. Based on the 2023 World Energy Outlook report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), CO2 emissions are already expected to peak in the mid-2020s – most likely by 2025. That said, IEA’s own data already demonstrates that the peak in global CO2 emissions came as early as last year, partly because of the global energy crises brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With such information, it has become more necessary than ever for governments, international organisations, and corporate industries to strengthen their efforts toward decarbonisation. One such industry is the maritime sector. This industry contributes substantially to global CO2 emissions every year. In 2022, for instance, international shipping accounted for almost 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As such, there have been calls for the development of a low-carbon maritime transport system around the world in recent years.

In the Asia-Pacific region, particularly, several initiatives are already being done to facilitate and institutionalise low-carbon shipping. These initiatives essentially focus on exploring and developing low-carbon fuels for ocean shipping to replace traditional heavy fuels, which release large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Currently, the list of feasible low-carbon alternatives to heavy fuel oil can be narrowed down to five major contenders, namely ammonia, biofuels, hydrogen, methanol, and liquefied natural gas.

The Importance of Using Low-Carbon Fuel in Shipping 

The effective use of low-carbon fuels is vital to maritime decarbonisation. The majority of commercial vessels currently operate on heavy fuel oil, which has been used in maritime shipping since the 19th century. The main advantage of these heavy fuels is that they have a high energy density, which means that they can propel vessels long distances, even in small amounts. Moreover, these fuels are relatively cheap since they are mere by-products of the oil refining procedure that generates petrol and diesel.

However, the advantages of using heavy fuel oil come at a cost. Not only do heavy fuels contribute to climate change, but they also create a multitude of environmental and health risks. For instance, the maritime industry accounts for 18% of nitrogen oxide and 9% of sulphur oxide emissions each year – harmful pollutants that can cause acid rain and affect the respiratory system. Aside from this, heavy fuels also create black carbon, which not only darkens the Arctic’s surface and amplifies global warming but also poses significant health risks, such as lung and heart disease.

At present, maritime trade volumes are expected to triple by 2050, and as such, CO2 emissions will most likely continue to increase unless the industry acts swiftly. Although institutionalising a low-carbon maritime transport system is a huge challenge, such a transition presents a significant opportunity, as a new research study commissioned by the Ocean Panel demonstrates that actions to decarbonise shipping can lead to about two gigatonnes of yearly emission savings in 2050, which is equivalent to removing 400 million motor vehicles from the road each year.

The Asia-Pacific Region’s Transition to Low-Carbon Shipping

The Asia-Pacific region is currently at the forefront of promoting maritime decarbonisation through the use of low-carbon technology in shipping. In fact, the transition toward a low-carbon maritime transport system is among the new priority themes in the action plan called the “Regional Action Programme for Sustainable Transport Development in Asia and the Pacific,” which was adopted at the fourth Ministerial Conference on Transport in 2021.

This programme essentially seeks to formulate policies that will streamline the Asia-Pacific region’s transition toward low-carbon shipping, which will consequently address the problem of increasing transport demand and CO2 emissions therein. While transport demand is set to increase across all regions, countries in the Asia-Pacific region are forecasted to experience the most substantial rise in demand. As such, CO2 emissions in this region could increase by 47% between 2015 and 2050.

If ambitious yet viable low-carbon shipping policies are created and enforced, CO2 emissions may then be reduced by 56% within the same period. However, there is a need for such policies to strengthen climate ambition to reverse the ongoing trend of increasing emissions, while simultaneously keeping equality and equity at their core. These goals can be attained through the development of low-carbon technology and the improvement of maritime services and systems, which are available and accessible to all, regardless of income, age, gender, geographical location, and health.


The worsening effects of high global CO2 emissions into the atmosphere have forced individuals and organisations alike to take swift action to attain net-zero emissions. In the maritime industry, particularly, addressing energy efficiency and CO2 emission reduction is currently being achieved through the exploration and development of low-carbon technology and fuels. Low-carbon fuels are fuels with a non-fossil origin and emit very little to no additional CO2 at all during their production and use.

This institutionalisation of a low-carbon maritime transport system has been a top priority in the Asia-Pacific region over the last few years, especially since increasing transport demand is threatening to bring about a significant rise in CO2 emissions. However, to achieve a maritime transport system that is not dependent on heavy fuel oil, the Asia-Pacific region must formulate and implement effective low-carbon transport policies that will facilitate its transition toward zero-carbon fuels.

About Maritime Fairtrade 

Maritime Fairtrade is an independent and reputable digital news platform with a strong commitment to delivering the latest news about the Asian maritime trade to the public. As a way to stay true to our commitment, we provide a comprehensive range of regulatory changes and insightful analyses of all emerging trends within the maritime industry. Do not hesitate to check our maritime guide in Singapore if you wish to stay updated about the hottest events in the maritime sector. Apart from news and insights, our website also provides useful information on various aspects of the shipping industry, such as reviews and recommendations for the most cost-effective shipping courses in Singapore.


Make seafaring great again

Make seafaring great again

An overwhelming 80 percent of global goods are transported by ships and this fact places the maritime industry at the

The best maritime news and insights delivered to you.

subscribe maritime fairtrade

Here's what you can expect from us:

  • Event offers and discounts
  • News & key insights of the maritime industry
  • Expert analysis and opinions on corruption and more