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First cruise-led green corridor details its action plan

Pacific Northwest to Alaska Green Corridor
Parties to the world's first cruise-led 'green corridor' zero-emission route, Pacific Northwest to Alaska, outlined a three-phase approach in their just-finalized project charter.

The 14 first movers — cruise ports, cruise lines and knowledge partners — aim to decarbonize the shipping routes between Alaska, British Columbia and Washington, with an initial focus on cruise ship operations.

The green corridor concept springs from the Clydebank Declaration at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow. The Pacific Northwest to Alaska Green Corridor was announced in May 2022 and on Thursday, the group held a webinar to update on progress.

'Remarkably diverse' coalition

It's a 'remarkably diverse' coalition, from multinational corporations to towns with fewer than 1,200 residents, with a shared mission: 'To expand economic opportunity while reducing environnental impact,' said Steve Metruck, executive director, Port of Seattle. He called this 'the challenge of our time,' and to meet that, 'We must all work together.'

Under their new charter, the first movers plan to evaluate the necessary technological, economic infrastructure and regulatory/policy conditions to support a green corridor; explore near-term opportunities to accelerate decarbonization and reduce emissions; and work collaboratively to develop and regularly update shared work plans.

The 14 first movers

The first movers are Port of Seattle, which chairs the project, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, the city/boroughs/municipalities of Juneau, Sitka, Skagway and Haines; Carnival Corp. & plc, Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Cruise Lines International Association; and NGOs Global Maritime Forum, Blue Sky Maritime Coalition and Washington Maritime Blue.

Shared values

According to their charter, they'll seek early achievement of the ambition to decarbonize the maritime sector by 2050 and aim to improve public health in the near term while transitioning to zero-emission solutions, particularly in communities experiencing environmental health disparities.

They pledge to ensure the safety of near port populations, workers, residents, cruise employees and passengers when implementing the green corridor and to ensure that decarbonization pathways do not exacerbate other environmental issues and whenever possible maximize the co-benefits, such as underwater noise reduction, air and water quality, waste reduction and marine ecosystem protection.

Further values include economic prosperity, supporting a just, fair and equitable transition to a zero-emission maritime future that maintains the competitiveness of the industry and the prosperity of port communities.

They intend to collaborate and work with other stakeholders across the entire value chain to identify solutions and address barriers to decarbonization. They aspire to accountability by providing clear, transparent and timely updates on progress. And they intend to share lessons and serve as a model for other regions and industries to establish green corridors around the world, understanding that routes are unique and solutions for one route may not work in another.

Phase 1: assessment

First, a landscape assessment will evaluate the technological, economic and regulatory/policy conditions needed to support a green corridor for cruise travel to Alaska, whether those conditions exist along the corridor, and identify gaps, risks and opportunities. This phase will also identify key stakeholders and assemble critical partners needed to inform the corridor’s development.

This Phase 1 is focused on cruise ships, fuels and the necessary shoreside infrastructure for alternative fuels and shore power for ships. It does not include decarbonization of cruise operations unrelated to the ship, such as ground transportation, terminal equipment, terminal buildings, shore excursions or other operations.

Phase 1's landscape assessment consultant procurement and launch is envisioned to continue through the third quarter of 2023, with completion of the assessment in 2024.

Phase 2: strategic plan

In Phase 2, the first movers will create a strategic plan, identifying targets and actions needed to address gaps and leverage opportunities identified in the landscape assessment to accelerate decarbonization along the corridor.

Phase 3: implementation

Phase 3 entails implementation: establishing commitments and investments needed by the first movers and other stakeholders that will be necessary to bring about a green corridor.

After concluding each phase, the first movers will convene to reach consensus on next steps and develop a shared workplan. They may update the charter to reflect changes in the project, and work within each phase may require a mix of third-party, external support and in-kind support by the first movers. Where the project requires joint funding for external support, first movers will develop a funding agreement or mechanism.

Some webinair insights

Vesa KoivumaaWärtsilä Voyage, a member of the Blue Sky Maritime Coalition, who moderated Thursday's webinar, said each green corridor will have unique conditions and solutions.

Alexandra Pierce, City and Borough of Juneau: The fuel focus is key, but other initiatives such as shore power for ports are important, too. And scalability is vital.

Christine Eriksen, Port of Vancouver: Ports are interested in the decarbonization of all maritime operations, not just cruise, and Vancovuer provides $2m in annual incentives to ships that connect to shore power, use alternative fuels and take other steps to reduce emissions.

Robert Morgenstern, Holland America Group: For small towns that are challenged to meet the costs of providing shore power, 'The green corridor can be a big help' in going after federal infrastructure funding which requires a coordinated, regional strategy.

Nick Rose, Royal Caribbean Group: 'The collective approach helps' since cruise lines can't do it alone. 'We need to work with the whole value chain of suppliers' — fuel suppliers and engine and technology manufacturers ... We're looking at all the resources, knowing we'll have to use a large portfolio of them. There's no silver bullet.'

Jessica John, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings: Biodiesel can be a short-term option, 'something we can do now to start making an impact today' since it can be blended with traditional fossil fuels as a drop-in solution. 'Methanol and hydrogen are emerging as some of the longer-term solutions ... We have leaned heavily into methanol.'

Over 80% of the efforts needed to decarbonize shipping are land-based so 'investment is needed, not just for maritime.' Example: PortMiami can dock seven cruise ships but the city's electrical grid can support only three at a time plugging in.

Bill Burke, Carnival Corp. & plc: 'Efforts to increase efficiency are something we can do now and they reduce the amounts of future fuels we will need.' Carnival's carbon intensity peaked in 2011, though its capacity has increased 35% since. Hundreds of millions of dollars are going into improving efficiency.

With its LNG-powered ships, Carnival's created strong demand for LNG. It's not the solution but 'the best option we have today' and with the development of bioLNG or eLNG, it could become a long-term fuel but 'we need the [clean] energy ashore ... in order to produce that fuel in a green way.' Doing so could make LNG viable long-term.

Meanwhile, Carnival's working with manufacturers to convert engines on a couple ships for methanol and is testing a big battery for peak shaving as well as fuel cells.

'We have a lot of irons in the fire ... The solution will be solutions, not singular.'

Kevin Humphreys, Lloyd's Register Americas and chair of green corridors, Blue Sky Maritime Coalition: Green corridors are continuing to grow with a high level of activity in the US Gulf Coast (lower Mississippi to Houston) and a ramp-up in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence.

'We think we'll see a natural growth of the green corridor around the South Florida cruise industry as they build out infrastructure. That will be available for other areas including international distribution of fuels to the islands and Central and South America.'

Brian Salerno, Cruise Lines International Association: Cruise terminals and shore excursions aren't part of the first phases of the Pacific Northwest to Alaska Green Corridor but it makes sense to include them in the future, along with other maritime entities beyond cruise ships. 

Since COP 26, there's more pressure on IMO to strengthen its greenhouse gas reduction targets. Leading up to the Marine Environnental Protection Committee session in July, quite a few proposals involve revised and upgraded targets.

IMO has talked about full maritime decarbonization by the end of the century. 'Nobody is going to accept that any more. It probably will be a 50-year advance of that goal to, roughly, 2050.'