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Hanna Bach

Doctoral student

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Flickering guiding light for maritime decarbonisation: Past developments and future implications of the policy mix consistency and comprehensiveness for international shipping


  • Hanna Bach
  • Teis Hansen

Summary, in English

Although being promoted as the most eco-friendly form of transportation, the shipping sector currently accounts for around 3 % of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, however, with increasing global trade emissions are expected to increase. Even if energy efficiency gains have been accomplished, the majority of the global fleet continue to run on fossil fuels and the total emissions from ships are continuously increasing. Up until recently, emission regulations and standards for the shipping sector have been focused on air polluting substances (such as sulphur and nitrogen emissions), failing to regulate the increasing GHG emissions. With the introduction of the International Maritime Organisation’s initial GHG Strategy (released in 2018), emission reduction targets for the international shipping sector has been formulated for the first time and new regulations are coming into force, and the shipping industry is now under pressure to decarbonize. The long life span of ships (15-40 years) implies that technology implementation is slow due to the low turn-over. Furthermore, making investment decisions about propulsion technologies) is a tremendous challenge due to the uncertainty regarding future fuel options and their availability. Apart from development new sustainable propulsion technologies, there is therefore a need for investigating societal challenges and opportunities connected to the transition from fossil fuels.

Within the field of sustainability transitions there is a need for a better understanding of the impact of policies and policy processes on the direction and speed of transitions. In order to fill this research gap, the concept of ‘policy mixes’ has gradually been introduced and developed considerably in the sustainability transitions literature during the last decade. However, many studies provide limited attention to the role of policy mix characteristics. Thus, while empirical policy mix analyses map e.g. the development of policy instruments over time, they rarely analyse the development in policy characteristics. Also, little is known regarding the interrelations between the different policy mix characteristics. Responding to this gap, we focus on the role of policy mix consistency and comprehensiveness in the current paper, building upon the conceptual framework for policy mix characteristics proposed by Rogge and Reichardt (2016). Conceptually, we suggest a distinction between policy mix consistency and comprehensiveness at three different levels (instrument mix, policy strategy, overall policy mix), and provide developed definitions for these categories. Furthermore, we develop an empirically anchored approach to analysing policy mix comprehensiveness, taking starting point in the policy topics covered by the policy strategy. This in order to strengthen the qualitative analytical aspect compared to the quantitative elements in the previously proposed framework.

Empirically, the article aims to explore the role of regulation for sustainability transitions within the shipping sector. More specifically, we aim to analyse the degrees of comprehensiveness and consistency of the policy mix regulating air emissions from the global shipping sector, in order to identify implications of the policy mix design on technology pathways. Based on document analysis, we present an overview of the development of the policy mix since the implementation of the first international regulation of air emissions from shipping in 2005, comparing the degree of consistency and comprehensiveness of the policy mix over time. This analysis allows us to discuss interrelations between policy mix consistency and comprehensiveness. Furthermore, we plan to connect this analysis with interview data (to be collected) on recent and ongoing processes regarding technology choices within the shipping sector, and explore potential connections between regulation and concepts such as technological lock-in and path dependency. Our preliminary findings suggests that the degree of policy mix comprehensiveness has increased in the last decade. However, regulation concerning air pollutants are institutionalised to a higher degree than GHG regulation, implying that emission requirements for the former have the main impact on technology pathways. Regarding consistency, we find the instrument mix and the policy strategy respectively to be strongly consistent, however, the overall policy mix appears to only fulfil weak consistency as the instrument mix has a limited capacity to achieve the policy objectives regarding GHG emission reduction.


  • Department of Human Geography

Publishing year




Document type

Conference paper: abstract


  • Other Social Sciences

Conference name

12th International Sustainability Transitions Conference

Conference date

2021-10-05 - 2021-10-08

Conference place

Karlsruhe, Germany