Category Archives: Climate & Environment

Green shipping corridors gaining momentum

Green shipping corridors gaining momentum

The Hotel New York in Rotterdam
Rotterdam’s historic Hotel New York building was formerly the headquarters of Dutch shipping firm Holland America Line

The powerful diesel engine roars as the water taxi cuts through the choppy water that connects Rotterdam’s gritty port areas to what remains of the city’s historic maritime grandeur.

As the yellow speedboat docks in front of the glamorous Hotel New York, the city’s global shipping heritage is there for all to see.

The 122-year-old building, one of few to survive the extensive bombing of Rotterdam in World War Two, was originally the headquarters of Dutch shipping company Holland America Line. The firm’s name is still adorned on the front of the building in large letters.

Next door, from its headquarters in a skyscraper that vaguely resembles a lighthouse, the Port of Rotterdam Authority is keen to shine a light on the future of shipping rather than look back on its past. More specifically, it is focusing its spotlight on how the sector can continue efforts to reduce it emissions.

As the manager and operator of Europe’s largest port, the authority has partnered with its opposite number in Singapore to create one of the world’s first new, long-distance green shipping corridors.

The idea behind these corridors is that cargo ships travel along the routes using only zero or low emission fuels. To help make this possible, both Rotterdam and Singapore are building new storage facilities for green fuels, such as ammonia and methanol, as alternatives to fuel oil.

Ammonia is a gas produced by fusing hydrogen with nitrogen. It is called “green ammonia” if the hydrogen is produced using 100% renewable energy. Meanwhile, methanol is a form of alcohol that can also be produced with green energy.

The Port of Rotterdam’s interim chief executive, Boudewijn Siemons, says the link-up between the Dutch city and Singapore aims to show how the concept can practically work.

“It’s a pragmatic approach to carbon reduction in shipping,” he says. “We have to get started somewhere, and you cannot get started by implementing zero emission shipping as a total solution everywhere in the world.

“That’s why we’re seeking these green corridors as proof points on a limited scale. We then have to scale up from there.”

In September of this year, the first container ship sailed between Singapore and Rotterdam in this green way. Called the Laura Maersk, it was powered by methanol, which currently delivers an up to 65% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to burning fossil fuels.

The Laura Maersk
The Laura Maersk went from Asia to Europe in September, powered by methanol

The green corridors concept was born at COP26, the global environment summit held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2021. Called the Clydebank Declaration, and agreed by 22 countries including the UK, it included a commitment to create at least six corridors by the middle of this decade.

This month’s COP28 in the United Arab Emirates saw the announcement of new corridors, including one from Canada’s west coast to Korea and Japan, one in the Caribbean, and another between Houston in the US and Belgium’s Antwerp.

It followed a pledge by the International Maritime Organisation, which represents the shipping industry, that the sector will achieve net-zero emissions “by or around” 2050.

While ports such as Rotterdam are continuing to prepare for the switch to zero emission shipping, it is clear that ship builders face an equally big challenge.

Industry figures show that just 0.6% of cargo ships around the world run on alternative fuels, and only 15 to 16% of vessels currently on order will run on dual or alternative fuels.

Yet there is some high-profile demand for more green shipping, such as from online shopping giant Amazon. The firm, a founding member of the Zero-Emission Maritime Buyers Alliance, along with other companies such as furniture group Ikea and clothing firm Patagonia, recently renewed a reduced emissions contract with shipping giant Maersk.

Meanwhile, cargo firm North Sea Container Line is launching a ship powered by ammonia, which will operate between Norway and Germany. And Hoegh Autoliners, which specialises in transporting cars and trains, is building 12 new ammonia-ready ships.

Lynn Loo is the chief executive of the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation, a body that promotes the move to green fuels in the industry. She forecasts that ammonia production could double or even treble by 2050.

Ms Loo says there needs to be “a dramatic rise in the number of vessels capable of transporting ammonia from the 200 that are on the water today”. She adds that there also needs to be “significant infrastructure buildout to support the much higher throughput of ammonia in the future”.

Lynn Loo
Lynn Loo is predicting a big rise in the number of ships powered by ammonia

“None of these are going to be easy to scale,” observes Edward Glossop, head of sustainable operations at Bunker Holding, the world’s largest supplier of marine fuels.

“But ammonia may be the least challenging. The first ammonia engines will be delivered to shipyards by the end of 2024, and we aim to be a commercial supplier of low emission ammonia within the next few years.”

However, there are currently no plans to enforce green shipping lanes and some who watch the industry doubt whether they will prove popular.

“We know the future fuels will be expensive,” says veteran maritime economist Martin Stopford. “You’re attempting to implement change that’ll make people poorer, so it’ll be unpopular.”

He adds that even if production of clean fuels does take off, the maritime industry will be up against sectors such as manufacturing, domestic heating, road transportation aviation all competing for supplies.

“There is going to be some very big heavyweights in the queue ahead of shipping,” says Mr Stopford.

Mr Siemons acknowledges that the process of decarbonising shipping “is both complex and expensive”.

“But we should not predict the future based on the state of the technologies today, and on the state of the markets today,” he reasons.

“Yes today fuel oil is cheaper than hydrogen or ammonia, but that doesn’t mean it has to be so in the future.”

Out on the water in front of his building, even Rotterdam’s yellow water taxis are joining in the green transition. As far back as 2016, Europe’s first electric-powered water taxi entered service here, and last year a hydrogen-powered one also took to the water.

“It all has to become renewable,” Mr Siemons concludes.



The colored stripes that explain climate change

The colored stripes that explain climate change

In 2017, Ellie Highwood, then professor of climate physics at the University of Reading, posted a photograph on Twitter of a “global warming blanket she had crocheted, in which rows of color represented average global temperature changes across time. She had no idea that a graphic version later created by a colleague would become a global symbol of climate change.

The “climate stripes” image has been embraced by activists globally, and used as a cover image for Greta Thunberg’s The Climate Book, as well as for print editions of The Economist and the Folha de S.Paulo, a Brazilian newspaper. The stripes have been worn in London Fashion Week catwalks and as part of the UK football team Reading FC’s players’ uniform.

The stripes have been displayed as public infrastructure, on public transport in Europe, decorated buildings and even natural landmarks such as the White Cliffs of Dover in England. Recently, they were shown in a three day music festival in Mexico City.

The warming stripes have been used to decorate public transport such as electric trams and buses in countries including the UK and Germany (Credit: Ed Hawkins)

The warming stripes have been used to decorate public transport such as electric trams and buses in countries including the UK and Germany (Credit: Ed Hawkins)

Cycling 4 Climate, a foundation that has organised rides in six countries to promote climate change awareness, chose the stripe pattern as a uniform because of the strong message it conveys.

“It gives me the feeling that even when I’m exercising, I’m working on increasing climate change awareness,” says co-founder Joost Brinkman, based in the Netherlands. “I frequently get asked about the shirt because people like the design. It’s an easy conversation starter and people are always shocked when they understand the story.”

Unlike traditional data visualisations, the blanket’s pattern only features colours – and resembles a barcode more than a normal graph. “Some people switch off as soon as they see a graph, right?” says Highwood. In her blog, she shared instructions to replicate the blanket using yarn or other materials. “The craft version does something different. If you are physically reproducing the pattern, you are internalising the data, and there’s more chance you’ll feel that it’s real.”

When Ed Hawkings, climate scientist and professor at the same university, saw the climate stripes and witnessed people’s reactions, he thought they would be a good way to visualise the data from climate change online. He reduced the range of colours to tones of blues and reds, universally associated in weather maps with temperature.

In 2020, Cycling 4 Climate rode for 400km (249 miles) along the future Dutch coastline, using their climate stripes jerseys as a conversation starter (Credit: Cycling 4 Climate)

In 2020, Cycling 4 Climate rode for 400km (249 miles) along the future Dutch coastline, using their climate stripes jerseys as a conversation starter (Credit: Cycling 4 Climate)

A year later, looking for a simple way of communicating with a non-scientific audience, Hawkins tested the design at the Hay Festival in the UK. After a positive reception, he embarked on a mission to make the climate stripes widely accessible and launched a website for people to customise the graphic to their location. Within a week, the site had more than one million downloads from across 180 countries.

“Part of tackling the issues we face is to normalise this topic as a part of our everyday conversations, like we talk about the economy, healthcare or politics,” says Hawkins.

Bernadette Woods Placky, chief meteorologist at Climate Central, an organisation that communicates climate change science and solutions, first saw the stripes on a Facebook group of TV meteorologists and reporters in 2018. When a weather presenter in the network printed the design on a tie to wear on TV, and asked if anybody else wanted to join, she saw an opportunity for the community to collaborate. They partnered with Hawkins, universities, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and others, and had a WhatsApp group with TV weather presenters from more than 100 countries. Soon, the campaign went global.

“Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time, and there is no one way to answer this. The fact that this resonates across such a variety of audiences…. That is what’s most important to me,” says Woods Placky.

October 2023 was the warmest on record globally, and 2023 is virtually certain to be the warmest year on record. A 2023 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report concluded that human activities, mainly through emissions of greenhouse gases, have caused global warming, increasing the likelihood and intensity of extreme weather events.

“Climate change can be a really tough subject, but people see these stripes and they get excited. There’s something about them that is inspiring and uniting. You see energy build in a positive way,” says Woods Placky.

For Amanda Makulec, Executive Director of the Data Visualization Society (DVS), the warming stripes are just another way of presenting data. Makulec believes that what makes them special is that they have taken on a life of their own. Anybody can use the pattern in imaginative ways, helping them connect with the message.

Makulec views artistic or physical representations of information as a way to make it less daunting. “It can make the data seem less technical, and allows us to look at the big picture and reflect,” she adds.

Although it’s impossible to isolate or measure the effect of a single campaign on climate policies and negotiations around the world, some experts believe that the climate stripes may have contributed to generating attention for rising temperatures.

US Senators have worn them as pins and French members of the ecologist group had them on their shirts whilst speaking in parliament. Gabriel Boric, now Chile’s president, wore them as a facemask during the final debate before the elections.

The stripes have also had significant international exposure in recent COP (Conference of the Parties) climate events, confirms Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, scientist and former IPCC vice-chair. COPs gather government representatives, the general public, the media and activists from hundreds of nations.

He recently wore his climate stripes tie during a meeting with the COP28 president. “When you don’t have PowerPoint [presentation software], it’s a visually powerful way to spread the message of the rapid evolution of global temperature,” says van Ypersele.

Hawkins hoped the climate stripes visual would spark curiosity in people and start conversations about rising temperatures (Credit: Ed Hawkins, University of Reading)

Hawkins hoped the climate stripes visual would spark curiosity in people and start conversations about rising temperatures (Credit: Ed Hawkins, University of Reading)

However,  van Ypersele observed that in other settings the graphic is not always understood.

“Sometimes people come up to me and say, ‘oh, you have a nice tie’, and then I see they don’t get it,” he adds. So, whenever he wears the tie, he is always prepared to offer an explanation about its meaning, as well as the causes and effects of climate change and what we can do to slow it down.

The graphic has also faced some backlash, mainly from the scientific community, says Hawkins, for being too simple.

“I certainly have had criticism because you can’t see the details, the numbers. I think that’s fair. There’s no one way of presenting this, in a way that is easily understandable and gives everyone all they want from a graphic. It is only one from a wide range we can draw on to talk to different audiences about the same issue,” says Professor Hawkins.


The emissions from travel it took to report this story were 0kg CO2. The digital emissions from this story are an estimated 1.2g to 3.6g CO2 per page view. Find out more about how we calculated this figure here.

Although the climate stripes have become popular in North America and Europe, this is not necessarily the case in other regions. Habiba Ahut Daggash, who researches technology and policy for climate change mitigation and clean energy across Africa, says that in Nigeria ” they are only recognized by people familiar with climate science. I’m not sure it would be recognizable to even all environmental activists or civil society without explanations.”

The warming stripes may not necessarily be the solution, but perhaps they represent a first step in recognizing the problem, especially when misinformation is abundant.

“Climate change has been a very political challenge, and if the stripes have opened doors to start those conversations… I can’t think of a better impact,” says Makulec.