Shipping is the least environmentally damaging form of commercial transport and, compared with land-based industry, is a comparatively minor contributor to marine pollution from human activities. However, other transport modes took action to reduce their emissions several years ago and have managed to achieve a higher percentage reduction compared to maritime transport. Therefore, action is needed to enable maritime transport to maintain its current environmental profile compared to other transport modes.
Maritime decarbonisation is much broader than simply moving away from carbon-based fuels for ships and ports. We have to consider all the elements of maritime transport and logistics, which is responsible for moving more than 80% of global trade and 96% of UK trade, as parts of a unique ecosystem that is embedded within the global and UK economy. In most cases, the discussion is focused on the shipping element while we forget other parts, such as the port operations or how the overall logistics interact with the port.
Therefore, we need to start tackling the key drivers, challenges and opportunities for decarbonisation, as the maritime transport sector needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions immediately, and in such a way that smaller and developing countries will not be disadvantaged.
To achieve that we need to consider new strategies, business models and decision-making plans that will embrace the steps required to reduce energy consumed and, ultimately, emissions derived from the maritime transport sector, which is responsible for 3% of total global CO2 emissions. We need to bring companies, governments and academia into the same forum to exchange best practices and technologies. The cost of the implementation of those new technologies will be higher than the existing technology, so we will need to strike a delicate balance to move our maritime transport sector towards the concept of net zero.
We need also to educate the consumer and inform them that their choices are having an environmental impact so that they can consider the sustainability profile of their choices. For example, ordering a sofa that was assembled cheaply in the Far East may be cheaper, but it could have a higher environmental impact as its raw material may be outsourced from all over the world.
Finally, we need to consider the safety of alternative fuels and their operation profile, as they do not have the same calorific value as fossil fuels. Therefore, the risk has to be evaluated and the public informed about any possible knock-on effects that could be generated by using alternative fuels. Potential damage to the environment could jeopardise the security and sustainable development of our communities.
In conclusion, there are significant opportunities to decarbonise all elements of the maritime transportation and logistics chain, but successful maritime decarbonisation will be a combination of the application of many mutually reinforcing measures, rather than depending on a few ‘silver bullets’.