Shell’s decision to abandon the Burger J project, along with its entire Arctic exploration program, comes immediately after the revelation that Volkswagen has been caught in flagrante in the matter of nitrogen oxides and other nasty emissions. The political damage is enormous, but surely will not last forever.
Shell’s change of course marks a signal victory for Greenpeace, while the Volkswagen debacle is an even bigger victory for the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Both outfits are the sworn enemies of the shipping industry, as well as oil and the auto establishments. These political defeats will be more lasting than the failures of today. Both failures, are, however, reminders that the environmental movement has great political, and, therefore, economic power. The big players already know this, although companies like BP have had to learn the hard way. What is less well understood are the consequences for the smaller players, of the kind characterised by the fragmented shipping industry.
With each political success, organisations like Greenpeace, and government agencies like CARB, become more credible in the environmental marketplace. This will have an effect on the forthcoming COP 21 negotiations in Paris.
One gets the impression that representatives of the international maritime industry believe that they can bargain for a reasonable result in the climate change discussions to come. While the result may be reasonable to Greenpeace, and to government regulators in California, Washington and Brussels, I think that the commercial shipping industry is in for another shock. In recent decades, ballast water and emissions have been the twin vulnerabilities for which shipping was relatively unprepared. There’s more to come.