Climate Change

The Need for a National Maritime Decarbonization Strategy: A Letter to the U.S. House of Representatives

March 30, 2022  • Ingrid Irigoyen

March 30, 2022

Ms. Cheryl Dickson 
Professional Staff 
Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation 
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure 
U.S. House of Representatives

CC: Mr. John Rayfield

Dear Cheryl,

Thank you for meeting with us recently to discuss our national pathway for maritime decarbonization. In follow-up, we would like to offer general recommendations for action the Committee can take to ensure the United States has a coherent, and ultimately a successful, response to the need to decarbonize maritime shipping both domestically and globally. These ideas are informed by our engagement with maritime stakeholders, particularly multinational companies that are job creators here in the United States and that rely on maritime shipping for their businesses to function, many of whom are eager for zero-emission shipping to become an economically viable alternative to fossil fuel-powered shipping (see

Specifically, we believe the creation of a National Maritime Decarbonization Strategy is essential.  A coordinated national strategy would illuminate our pathway to achieve the United States’ domestic and international climate and transportation-related goals, including the aim by the Biden Administration to reach zero emissions in the maritime sector by 2050, as outlined in the Declaration on Zero Emission Shipping by 2050 launched at COP26. These goals are also reflected in U.S. co-leadership in the Mission Innovation Zero-Emission Shipping Mission with goals to

  • Develop, demonstrate, and deploy zero-emissions fuels, ships, and fuel infrastructure along the full value chain;
  • Have ships capable of running on hydrogen-based fuels make up at least 5 percent of the deep-sea fleet, measured by fuel consumption, by 2030, and;
  • Have at least 200 well-to-wake zero-emission fueled ships in service by 2030.

These goals are ambitious and necessary to achieve in order to ensure we can reach zero-emissions across the international and domestic maritime sectors by 2050. They also offer milestones for consideration as part of a National Maritime Decarbonization Strategy. 

A National Maritime Decarbonization Strategy could be co-led by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) with input from the Department of Energy, Department of Commerce and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department, National Security Council, National Economic Council, U.S. Trade Representative, and other relevant federal agencies, along with robust collaboration with industry and public stakeholders. Specifically, a National Maritime Decarbonization Strategy should

  1. Establish national goals for maritime decarbonization, and illuminate pathways to increase the availability and uptake of zero-emission shipping fuels and technologies. 
  2. Include plans to expand federally-supported research, development, and deployment of zero emission technologies to ensure safety, reliability and improved environmental performance on a lifecycle basis. Strategies could include increased funding for R&D at DOT and DOE, focused on alternative fuel programs for shipping applications; expanding hydrogen-based fuel research and development; creating new advanced technologies loan programs for zero-emission shipping applications; and expanding zero-emission production incentives for maritime applications. 
  3. Illuminate new economic opportunities that could result from the maritime clean energy transition, and policy measures to close the competitiveness gap between fossil fuels and scalable zero-emission fuels. This includes identifying synergies with other sectors that will rely on similar inputs, such as hydrogen, in particular leveraging the growth of renewable energy capacity nationally and the potential for the shipping industry to become a long term and stable off-taker of fuel produced with that renewable energy.  
  4. Identify regulatory or statutory updates that may be needed to advance maritime decarbonization, such as removing barriers to use of new fuels and advancing policies and standards to encourage the domestic production and uptake of zero-emission maritime fuels. Incentive programs for domestic vessel retrofitting and zero-emission ready newbuilds should also be considered. 
  5. Describe decarbonization pathways for our nation’s ports and maritime-related onshore infrastructure. This could include federal investments and support for port electrification, eliminating port pollution from heavy duty trucks and cargo handling equipment; and port infrastructure upgrades to service zero-emission vessels, with a focus on how existing federal programs (e.g., Port Development Grants) and new programs could support these objectives.
  6. Address the need for vessel emissions transparency by setting forth timelines for reducing emissions and establishing a monitoring, reporting, and verification program for vessels of a certain size regardless of their flag. 
  7. Identify ways the United States can leverage its federal vessel fleet to build confidence in emerging zero-emission technologies and reduce federal fleet emissions, which would complement private sector efforts and position the U.S. as a global leader.
  8. Emphasize the role of shipping decarbonization in maintaining a healthy U.S. maritime economy through innovation and competitiveness, such as harnessing the benefits of maritime innovation/research clusters, implementing “green shipping corridors” as informed by U.S. leadership in international agreements like the Quad Agreement and the Clydebank Declaration, and through the implementation of policies such as tax incentives and border carbon adjustments to increase the development and competitiveness of zero-emission fuels and technologies.

The United States has a significant role to play in facilitating the decarbonization of the maritime shipping sector and increasing the competitiveness of scalable zero-emission fuels domestically and around the world. Strong congressional support will be essential to ensure the 2050 zero-emission shipping goal becomes reality and that the U.S. is shaping and benefiting from the global maritime energy transition. 

 A National Maritime Decarbonization Strategy initiated and overseen by Congress, developed and regularly updated through a coordinated approach among federal agencies, and grounded in input from the private sector, civil society, and the public would provide a clear roadmap for meeting our economic and climate goals. It would also give confidence to investors that maritime decarbonization is not only a moral obligation to the next generation, but also an exciting economic opportunity in the context of a broader clean energy transition. 

Please let us know if you have any questions, or if we can help be helpful going forward as the Committee develops its approaches to maritime decarbonization going forward.


Ingrid Irigoyen 
Director, Aspen Shipping Decarbonization Initiative 
Associate Director, Ocean and Climate
Aspen Institute Energy & Environment Program