Decarbonizing the International Shipping and Aviation Sectors

Article - January 17, 2023

The Paris Agreement requires a drastic reduction of global carbon emissions towards the net zero transition by mid-century, based on the large-scale transformation of the global energy system and major emitting sectors. Aviation and shipping emissions are not on a trajectory consistent with Paris goals, driven by rapid activity growth and the lack of commercial mitigation options, given the challenges for electrification of these sectors. Large-scale models used for mitigation analysis commonly do not capture the specificities and emission reduction options of international shipping and aviation, while bottom-up sectoral models do not represent their interlinkages with the entire system. Here, I use the global energy system model PROMETHEUS, enhanced with a detailed representation of the shipping and aviation sector, to explore transformation pathways for these sectors and their emission, activity, and energy mix impacts. The most promising alternative towards decarbonizing these sectors is the large-scale deployment of low-carbon fuels, including biofuels and synthetic clean fuels, accompanied by energy efficiency improvements. The analysis shows that ambitious climate policy would reduce the trade of fossil fuels and lower the activity and the mitigation effort of international shipping, indicating synergies between national climate action and international transport.

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