Shipping and decarbonisation: An inconvenient truth?
Join Lloyd’s List during London International Shipping Week as we discuss what people from outside the industry really think about shipping and its efforts to decarbonise
There is a dangerous credibility gap between the shipping industry’s rhetoric and reality when it comes to decarbonisation and these grey areas do not do shipping’s reputation — or its ability to alter it — any good
WHAT do people from outside shipping really think about the industry and its efforts to decarbonise?
With the developments from MEPC80 still fresh in the mind, regulators, governments, companies and organisations may believe they have a fairly accurate sense of how shipping is facing up to what is nothing less than its greatest collective challenge.
A genuine reflection of reputation and an assessment of real progress can only truly be understood by seeking the perceptions and insights from those on the outside looking in. After all, your reputation is what people say about you when you are not in the room, rather than what you say about yourself.
US President Benjamin Franklyn said that “it takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it”. This rings true in life and in business. What is also true is that reputation can be hard to alter and certainly takes time to evolve.
When it comes to shipping’s effort to decarbonise, the industry is suffering from a credibility gap — where pledges and promises are either dismissed as greenwashing or plain delusional, with very little middle ground.
The sector is awash with zero-carbon commitments, coalitions, pilot projects, green corridors and studies, all charting the industry’s alignment to the 1.5°C temperature increase goal of the Paris Agreement.
On paper, the industry is pushing ahead with a twin-track project of near-term efficiency gains, while politicians agree a clear regulatory timeline that unlocks the investment, scales low-emission fuels and addresses ongoing concerns about future supply and demand.
In reality, the distant prospect of any meaningful political agreement is being routinely used as a pretext for widespread inaction — or worse, outright greenwashing — as companies attempt to keep up the pretence of progress amid growing uncertainty and the likelihood of an expensive delayed zero-carbon transition regulated by a fragmented patchwork of national regimes.
Pledges to decarbonise seem commonplace, but how achievable are they really? A small fraction of the several hundred maritime companies signed up to the recent proliferation of zero-carbon coalitions and programmes have set solid 1.5°C Paris Agreement-aligned targets.
How many “LNG-ready” vessels will actually run on LNG? How many “methanol-ready” ships will run on methanol or pledge to use green methanol but bunker the cheaper, dirtier grey variety? From the outside looking in, one could argue that the partial industry observer was being duped.
These grey areas (excuse the pun) do not do shipping’s reputation — or its ability to alter it — any good. As more gazing eyes begin to scrutinise the industry, from shippers and cargo owners to financiers and insurers, how long can organisations make claims they cannot keep, or issue statements that obscure the truth?
Part of the industry is now stepping up and taking responsibility for its part in the climate crisis. Significant strides in the development and uptake of clean technologies, vessel optimisation and the pace of digitalisation are all markers of progress that the industry should be pleased with. But it is perhaps unsurprising that data and intelligence company Thetius recently showed in its Maritime Decarbonisation Technology Outlook that the shipping industry will not hit its 2030 IMO targets to decarbonise.
Adding weight to this theory is a recent report from the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation and the Boston Consulting Group, indicating that a ‘silent majority’ of small- to medium-sized shipowners still lack the “capability to be able to access, deploy, and maintain [decarbonising] solutions.”
Communicating in this new era for shipping has never been more important; and good communications should be grounded in the truth. But where does the truth lie?
The significance of the climate crisis has seen shipping come under greater scrutiny from previously more distant stakeholders. Shipping has long been much maligned from those outside of the industry, but does it also have its own inconvenient truth it needs to tackle when it comes to decarbonisation?
Targets have been set and only time will tell – but time is a commodity that we barely have to spare.
Lloyd’s List editor-in-chief Richard Meade and BLUE Communications managing director and co-founder Alisdair Pettigrew will be discussing shipping’s ‘inconvenient truth’ on Monday, September 11 during London International Shipping Week. The debate will take place 3pm-6pm at 240 Blackfrairs Road. Join them by registering to attend here: blue-comms.com/blue-event-lisw-2023