The Humphrey PACT (Practitioner - Assistant - Collaborative - Training) Program pairs undergraduate students in Global Development with Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows to work on a research endeavor in the fields of agriculture, rural development, and natural resource management. In this bilateral exchange, each undergrad is assigned as a research assistant, contributing to the Humphrey Fellow’s work from their home countries. Humphrey Fellows, who are mid-career professionals from around the world, gain support from students, while students get direct experiences with real-world development projects.
In this field note, Dong-pyo Hong (Humphrey Fellow from South Korea) and Sadaqat Omar '26 (Global Development) dive into their work on maritime energy policies and how decarbonization, liquefied natural gas (LNG), biofuel, and other alternatives to fossil fuels can contribute to reduce carbon emissions.
In March of 2023, delegates from the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction at the United Nations reached a historic agreement on the High Seas Treaty to protect the world’s oceans and marine life. Additionally, “Life Below Water”, with Sustainable Development Goal 14, acknowledges the importance of absorbing around 30% of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. These two strong messages have identified the shipping industry as a key player to protect the environment.
Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is a major challenge for the maritime industry, as sustainable energy sources require significant investment and developmental procedures. Innovation of new technologies cannot happen in isolation, as various industries are interconnected and need to collaborate. For instance, the maritime industry often relies on research and development produced by larger sectors such as battery storage, hydrogen, and automobile industries.
To comply with the Paris Agreement, some industries, such as the maritime industry, have transitioned to using LNG as a bridge fuel, which is considered a low-carbon energy source that can meet the demand of industries typically reliant on fossil fuels. For instance, in South Korea, three out of four major oil refineries recently retrofitted their energy systems to use LNG, and leaders in the Korean shipbuilding industry report a significant increase in orders for LNG-powered ships. This rise in demand is likely due to the UN-endorsed policies of the International Maritime Organization in 2018, which demand global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The transition should not be met with great celebration — we can do better.
Given some significant downsides to using LNG as a bridge fuel, the LNG transition is one that comes with concern. Methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, is released when extracting and transporting LNG. This dilemma is similar to that of electric vehicles, as the production of lithium-ion batteries also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Despite these challenges, historical trends indicate that the current economy will likely continue to rely on accessible energy sources like crude oil and natural gas due to their consistency and accessibility. There is still a need for bridge-fuels before the world can transition to renewable energy sources.
The shipping industry has the potential to push sustainable energy forward, as all ships around the globe work under a comprehensive regulatory body, the International Maritime Organization. There is little dialogue concerning the collaboration, however, which is necessary to transfer technologies between countries and industries. This lack of cooperation plays a significant role in global energy poverty, as all groups prioritize their own development of energy and turn a blind eye to the rest of the world. The world may be more willing to trust renewable energies when they are established widely in other industries. As a result, everyone has started to speak of the partnerships between governments and the private sector to reduce emissions and to develop resources and innovations for renewable energy. Lack of transparency, geopolitical challenges, and the underdeveloped supply chain for renewable energy have created roadblocks for the shipping industry to enter these partnerships.
With greenhouse gas levels likely to continue to rise in the coming years, there is no time for self-interest. Collaboration is necessary for a sustainable future.
The world has witnessed for a long time that economic leaders have been engaged in a brutal competition to take advantage of technology and resources. This kind of conflict and the resulting energy poverty has no place in a new era of climate change.
To accomplish a renewable energy transition, we need to rebuild what international cooperation looks like.
As of now, the shipping industry is waiting for other sectors to innovate and gain experience. By utilizing research and development investments and technology to fund progress in all countries across the rapid net-zero emissions, the shipping sector can initiate the global energy transition.
Meet the authors
Dong-pyo works in the Korea Coast Guard, specializing in oil spill responses at off-coast oil rigs in South Korea. As a Humphrey Fellow at Cornell, he is exploring new potential strategies for Korean warships to adopt renewable energy sources.
Sadaqat is a freshman from Dhaka, Bangladesh, majoring in Global Development at Cornell University.
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