IEA forecasts shipping will fall short in 2050 zero emissions rush

All funding for new oil, gas and coal supply projects must stop today if the world is to reach net zero emissions by mid-century, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said yesterday in a stark report on the urgent need to shift away from fossil fuels.

The IEA’ special report, Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, shows shipping is one of a few transport sectors unlikely to be zero emissions in 30 years’ time.

Shipping was responsible for 830m tonnes of CO2 emissions globally last year, down from 880m tonnes in 2019, according to the IEA. The IEA is forecasting emissions from shipping will decline by 6% annually to 120m tonnes of CO2 in 2050.

The IEA believes that in the medium- to long-term, significant shipping emissions reductions can be achieved by switching to low‐carbon fuels such as biofuels, hydrogen and ammonia.

Ammonia is viewed as a particularly good candidate for scaling up, and a critical fuel for long‐range journeys that require high-energy density fuels.

Sustainable biofuels are also forecast to provide nearly 20% of total shipping energy needs in 2050. However, battery-powered vessels will play only a minor role, mainly on shorter routes.

As the 20 largest ports in the world account for more than half of global cargo movements, the IEA forecast that they could become industrial hubs to produce hydrogen and ammonia for use in both chemical and refining industries, as well as for refuelling ships.

Among policy recommendations in the report, the IEA is urging that in the next few years, all governments must eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and encourage switching to low‐carbon technologies and fuels across the entire transport sector. Before 2025, governments need to define clear R&D priorities for all the technologies that can contribute to decarbonise transport in line with their strategic priorities and needs.

“Governments need to define their strategies for low‐carbon fuels in shipping and aviation by 2025 at the latest, given the slow turnover rate of the fleets, after which they should rapidly implement them,” the report states.

In launching the report, IEA executive director, Fatih Birol, commented: “The IEA’s pathway to this brighter future brings a historic surge in clean energy investment that creates millions of new jobs and lifts global economic growth. Moving the world onto that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation.”

Andrew Cox

During the 1990s, Dr Andrew Cox was the editor of UK Coal Review and was a regular writer and commentator on the international coal trade and related infrastructure developments. Post-2000, he has been a freelance writer, CPD trainer and project consultant. He focuses on developments in the energy, chemicals, shipping and port sectors.


  1. The graphics depicting rail being dominated by hydrogen is well wide of the mark. Rail has the cardinal advantage of being able to use electricity generated from a portfolio of generation input technologies. Electrification is also already in place and being extended. The economics and practicality of hydrogen for heavy rail are unproven. Using electricity to generate hydrogen is not an energy efficient process.

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