top of page

Nicholas Stovold: The UK needs to be more discerning when it comes to maritime decarbonisation

Nicholas Stovold, CEN Ambassador

Much has been said in recent weeks about the risk of the UK falling behind other countries in the race to decarbonise and losing out on economic benefits in the process. With the huge impact of the Inflation Reduction Act in the US and the EU's Green Industrial Plan, recent green overtures from the UK government, including the agreement with the US to access green funding for electric vehicles, are welcome.

The economic benefits of decarbonisation are clear, and one sector that offers enormous potential is the maritime industry. The latter emits more greenhouse gases than Germany on an annualised basis, and despite near-shoring and arguably a move away from the globalised trade model, over 80% of freight is carried by sea. Ships need to decarbonise, and the opportunity to develop greener fuels such as ammonia or methanol is vast.

But to do so requires huge funding and incentivisation. Unlike many other developed countries, the UK has no large maritime companies to lead the way in this field.

Companies like Denmark's AP Moller Maersk or France's CMA CGM, in a bid to lead the pack in the field of decarbonisation and send strong signals regarding their sustainability credentials, are investing billions of dollars in maritime decarbonisation.

Maersk has ordered dozens of new container vessels capable of operating on green methanol, a hydrogen-based fuel the company is producing domestically and developing ammonia-based fuels in Savannah, Georgia. Marseille's CMA CGM has recently set up a $1.5 billion 'Green Transition Fund'.

So, how can the UK keep up without such private sector giants to lead the way? To put it bluntly, the answer is for the UK government to only focus on those projects that are likely to make a difference.

This country has vast potential to become a world leader in developing and exporting green maritime fuels, using hydrogen-based fuels produced in places like Teesside, the Irish Sea and the Western Isles.

Furthermore, what better way to reduce emissions (and congestion) on our roads and rail network than by removing freight and putting it on small zero-emission vessels operating on maritime domestic green corridors?

The latter would also serve to revive many once thriving ports that, over time, have succumbed to the huge monopolising container ports of the South East, helping to bring jobs and prosperity to deprived coastal areas.

The government, via Innovate UK, established the 'Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition' two years ago, an initiative to encourage and support UK-based organisations focused on developing green maritime technology. However, since the CMDC was created, less than £100 million has been available to support the industry, and this, in turn, has been split into small tranches ranging from initially as low as £25,000 up to (as of today) a maximum of £10M.

In reality, what this means is multiple, fragmented contributions to the evolution of a particular strand of decarbonisation that needs massive, scaled-up investment to make a difference, whether domestically or globally.

In short, whilst these innovative efforts are welcome if the UK wants to compete on the global stage in the realm of maritime decarbonisation, without large home-grown private sector entities, the government is going to have to be a lot more ruthless in whom it chooses to support, paying out larger sums, to fewer players.


Views expressed in this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of the Conservative Environment Network. If you are a CEN supporter, councillor, or parliamentarian and would like to write for the CEN blog, please email your idea to

bottom of page