International shipping is responsible for more than 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions. It is also exposed to the environment more than most. At the International Chamber of Shipping, we therefore recognise that we have to act, and that’s why, in December, we took steps to play our part in addressing the climate crisis. We submitted a proposal for a research and development (R&D) fund, the likes of which have never been seen before.
Global regulators and states have set a course and the industry has given them an unparalleled opportunity. They don’t have to persuade the industry of its need to change. The industry has already looked at itself and decided that change is needed. And since we do not already have the technology we need now, we must get to work right away.
But this proposal doesn’t end with the maritime industry. It’s a model for all industries. It shows that with self-examination and effort, a global industry can reform itself; indeed, this is what British Petroleum (BP) has also said it plans to do. States and regulators must support us - or risk becoming obstacles to necessary change.
And change is needed. Maritime transport is responsible for 90% of global trade, and sea power has played a central role in the historic transformation of nations. It is only thanks to global shipping that people have been able to move goods quickly and safely all around the planet. This is only set to continue.
But it has taken a toll. And, despite being the most environmentally-efficient way of transporting goods across the world, many of the complaints levelled at global shipping have been justified. We have conceded that, like many, we have not done enough to respond to the threat of global heating. There have been advances, especially in respect to improvements in efficiency, in air quality and a reduced impact on biodiversity, but we need to do more.
That’s why our proposal is groundbreaking. It’s rare for an industry sector to take it upon itself to come forward with realistic proposals to deliver tangible change. But that’s what we’ve done. Our proposal for a $5 billion (€4.6 billion) R&D fund is the outcome of many discussions, much consideration and a wealth of feasibility studies.
We have not proposed a carbon tax, nor have we set the contribution level at a point that will not hurt developing economies. We do not wish to hold back the development of equitable and global market-based solutions. We have proposed an accountable, centralised, coordinated solution, transparently funded by a modest contribution of $2 (€1.84) per tonne of fuel bought by shipping companies. It will leave trade intact while allowing us to develop the forms of technology needed to meet the goals set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), including cutting our total greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050. What we’re effectively proposing is innovation.
Though we welcome the ambition of the European Green Deal, the proposals as they stand will not work in practice. Any market-based measure must be global for the simple reason that shipping is global. And as we have learned from the lengthy discussions at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a market-based solution will take time to implement. The shipping industry, in contrast, has a UN body quietly going about its business, with some member states having already backed our proposal. Yet we must recognise that there is a long and difficult road ahead if we are to achieve full support.
The world needs to solve the problem of climate change. We do not need obstacles or, as Greta Thunberg puts it, “clever accounting and PR.” The faster we arrive at a commercially viable, zero-emission solution the better. And more industries should be following the maritime industry’s example and asking themselves: what can we do?
Everyone must move forward together. All links in the supply chain must play their part, since it is in everyone’s interests - indeed, in the interests of everyone on the planet - that a solution to climate change is found. But should we in the shipping industry find that solution alone, then other industries will miss out on an opportunity.
And it is worth noting that some of the world’s most important scientific discoveries - from the invention of the microwave to the discovery of Teflon - came about by accident as a result of deliberate attempts to develop something else. Though we expect the R&D fund to achieve its aim through deliberate, goal-orientated work, it’s highly likely it will lead to other useful discoveries.
So, governments and regulators must be brave. Nothing worthwhile was ever easy to do. The solution to a problem stares us in the face thanks to the collaborative effort of the maritime industry’s most prominent trade bodies to produce a workable solution. And it is this solution that we believe will allow us to reach net-zero emissions in good time. The responsibility is now in the hands of those who make the big decisions. We remind them that with our proposal, there is nothing to lose - and everything to gain.
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