Blowin' in the wind? Possibilities of the International Maritime Organization to promote the uptake of wind propulsion in international shipping
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International shipping transports around 90 percent of global commerce and is of major importance for the global economy. Whilst it is the most efficient and environmentally friendly mode of transport, CO2 emissions from shipping activities still account for an estimated three percent of global emissions. As a consequence, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has recently introduced mandatory measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shipping, making emission cuts not only a normative, but also a legal requirement. One means of significantly reducing fuel consumption and thereby GHG emissions from shipping are wind propulsion technologies (i.e. towing kites, Flettner rotors and sails) - yet current market uptake is very low. Therefore, the aim of this research was to identify the possibilities of the IMO as the main regulatory body in international shipping to promote the uptake of wind propulsion technologies. To this end, the theoretical approach of technological innovation systems was adopted. This approach combines structural system components with so-called system functions which represent the dynamics underlying structural changes in the system. The fulfillment of these functions is considered important for the development and diffusion of innovations. First, the level of function fulfillment was evaluated, followed by the identification of structural drivers and barriers influencing function fulfillment. Third, the IMO’s governing capacities were analyzed, enabling the formulation of policy recommendations tailored to the IMO. Data was collected from newspaper articles, company websites and an expert survey (step 1), 14 semi-structured interviews (step 2), and the review of scientific articles (step 3). Across all three wind propulsion technologies, function fulfillment was found to be low or medium, at best, which inhibits further technological development and diffusion. Several structural barriers exist, including, amongst others, a lack of policies and incentive schemes promoting wind propulsion, lack of financial resources, insufficient collaboration among different actor groups and conservative and risk-averse attitudes prevalent in the maritime industry. The number and severity of the structural barriers outweigh those of the mostly emerging structural drivers. Next, it could be asserted that in order to promote technological development and diffusion, policy interventions should focus on stimulating the development and diffusion of knowledge and help mobilize resources. Yet, even though the IMO is well-suited to facilitate knowledge development and diffusion, which it could achieve by establishing a working or correspondence group on wind propulsion, it is less suited to mobilize resources. Nonetheless, it is suggested that the IMO intensifies efforts in relation to the introduction of market-based mechanisms (MBMs), as they increase the economic viability of wind propulsion and can provide funds to be used for research and development activities on low-carbon propulsion technologies. Until the introduction of MBMs, the IMO could set up a temporary fund for the same purpose, with financial contributions from international donor organizations, national governments and industry parties.