Disappointing reflections on London International Shipping Week

Ed King, founding editor of Climate Home, lashes out at the outdated views on display this week across the British capital.

Cognitive dissonance. That’s the best way I can describe the three sessions I’ve attended at London International Shipping Week 2017 so far.

Panellists at events run by Lloyds List, Lloyd’s Register and the International Chamber of Shipping have been quick to score an easy win by branding climate change a serious threat.

No-one, after all, wants to come across like a mini climate-denying Trump, especially after the carnage inflicted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

Some, such as IMO chief Kitack Lim on Wednesday, acknowledge it’s the greatest challenge facing the shipping sector in the coming decade.

“Make no mistake, the whole world will be watching the IMO next year,” Lim told a gathering held by ICS at the British Library, referring to the IMO’s planned 2018 interim climate strategy.

While there’s no doubting Lim’s personal commitment to tackling greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, the gap between public rhetoric and private action is wide.

Shipowners, financiers, government policymakers and lobbyists are happy to trot out claims of climate commitment, confident their claims will face little interrogation.

But dig into the proposals the likes of ICS are recommending ahead of an IMO deal and that ambition evaporates fast. Binding targets? No thanks. Absolute emission cuts? Ah, sorry.

A submission from major industry groups ahead of the July 2017 round of UN climate and shipping talks revealed a major flaw in the narrative industry is keen to take action.

The only GHG cuts proposed were relative — 50% CO2 cuts per tonne kilometre by 2050 — suggesting a misunderstanding of the basic laws of physics behind climate science.

Dangerous climate change — and that is what we’re faced with — is only avoided by absolute emission reduction, not good intentions or glossy sustainability brochures.

Yet the last few days have revealed a persistent inability of business leaders to realise shipping — as vast as it is — is merely one cog in a vast industrial machine that will have to change.

Keep calm and carry on

ICS vice chairman John Adams — who also chairs the Bahamas shipowners association — told the audience on Wednesday that getting “emotive” about climate change was slowing progress.

To a point John: try telling that to the citizens of the Bahamas. The Inter-American Development Bank predicts climate damages there could exceed $500 million a year by 2030.

It was an especially odd comment considering the damage wreaked on the Caribbean by Irma last week, which may or may not have been supercharged by warming air and oceans.

ICS board member for Greek shipowners John Lyras said there was no need for targets, that the Paris Agreement was voluntary, that regulations were already tight.

Not so tight, one might argue, that shipping efficiency rules are working: research from CE Delft published in June suggests the fuel economy of new vessels stalled in 2016.

My favourite line was on Monday, courtesy of Norton Rose partner Philip Roche, when asked to comment by Richard Clayton from Lloyds List on incoming IMO SOx rules.

“If you’re an environmentalist and concerned about people’s health it’s good thing,” he said, as if this wasn’t an issue that all in the audience would necessarily agree on.

And so it rolled on. The top US shipping official at the ICS talks suggested IMO always set the bar low as it makes it easier to get everyone on board. Natch.

Emanuele Grimaldi, MD of the shipping giant Grimaldi Group, said they always build the most efficient ship “taking account of current circumstances”. So if fuel is cheap, low efficiency?

This is just a segment of opinion. Many in the audiences of the events I attended may disagree: IMO official Edmund Hughes asked panellists on Monday to seek the “positives” of cleaner air.
We can only hope that the appointment of Sveinung Oftedal from Norway’s climate ministry as chair of IMO GHG talks will spark a change here: Olso is a world leader in low emission shipping.

It’s also worth saluting those companies who are showing signs of change. Green radicals Lloyds Register, Rolls Royce, BMT, Shell and MSI are among those on board HMS low emission.

The findings from a research project supported by those businesses and led by UCL Energy were published in full this week.

One headline is they expect zero emission ships to “significantly” penetrate global shipping markets by 2030.

As we’ve seen with smartphones, solar and electric cars, technology development does not follow a straight and predictable path.

There’s no reason to believe ships won’t be the same given the right incentives: pilots of autonomous, hydrogen, zero emission and hybrid vessels are already underway.

Truth is, it’s a sector on the cusp of something special — which will impact all our lives. But based on the panels I’ve observed this week — it’s also one still dominated by dated thinking, and it’s time that changed.


  1. ‘Dominated by dated thinking’? …it’s true. The rhetoric of the board room often remains just as wishful thinking and isn’t translated into action ‘on deck’. There are many reasons that’s so and the disparate or fragmented nature of our industry explains a lot… but so does good old bad management.

  2. am unable to reconciule Mr Kings rant tho i do agree with his views on rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi etc with little , incremental or no change . the question that needs to be asked is where is the level playing field for shipping ? all shore based installtions ( motor / rail etc ) have access to nil sulfur fuel easily absorb lng lpg etc etc ? -has he got any idea of the capitial costs involved in similar such installtions for the sea and safety issues involvedleave aside manning the vessels in safe manner or i think he suppoises they will all run unammned ! – re -co2; all cars are designed to burn the best fuel available in the market them and customers pay for the higher costs of the machine they use ; if customers will pay for the extra costs and the oil refiners will be willing to only supply such fuels and the governments will ensure that refiners will only supply such fuels shipping will be fine—would request a study be made on exactly how much more efficient a rail transport be now than what it was before at least as far as diesel motoring is cocnerend electric will be better —-if you wanna be more effieicnt increase the length of the train ! now germans have come up with hydrogen cells for trains so there may be some new in sight but forget about it for the ship for another thrity years or more —nuclear is abs no no and even for lng vessels ports want nothing to do with refuelling etc in their port so you need to get out and stop the vessel for refuelling ; wonder why aircrafts dont run on lng or solar ? .then england will need to grow bananas in green houses i guess ; even air planes managed to reduced unit co2 per passenger by growing aircraft size for long haul , short haul the co2 element is insignificant and able to be absorbed by the countries who think they value their environment but dont want to upset their citizenry who would like to go for a short holiday on the weekend at bare min costs ? i find the contradictions amazing in setting such standards –the only thing that looks plausible is the world will become insular which may not be such a bad thing in the long run as at least i would be least interested in what the presidnents of the free world and the leader of the erstwhile oecds are up to as their only interest is self interest as exactly its for self ; sorry ofr my rant but just my views

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