Red tape, green wash and chequered flags

Diane Gilpin from the Smart Green Shipping Alliance suggests shipping can learn from Formula One.

The law is an ass. Sometimes, maybe. Governments regulate for the wider good so we all enjoy a better quality of life. Breaking laws is endemic in our culture – avoiding taxes, breaking speed limits, trespassing – we’ve all done it. We believe we know better than regulators, and that ‘red tape’ is there to inhibit our personal and corporate growth.

That’s where Volkswagen badly misjudged the pettiness of their crime, and the mood of the public. It wasn’t just ‘green wash’, VW broke the law, a law that saves lives.

There is a growing determination to tackle all emissions across society. Blue-chip global corporations pledging to source 100% of their electricity from renewable energy to reduce CO2 emissions and (their words) “to seize the business benefits”. In the wake of the VW scandal they know this can’t be marketing puff but genuine commitment. Their confidence that it will pay off is that all sorts of people – from Pope to pauper; from China to the USA (aka consumers) – want to see emissions reduced in absolute terms. VW playing fast and loose with regulators around NOx is a warning – the public don’t like being duped and commercially it’s a disaster.

NOx is bad – implicated in a wide range of fatal illnesses from asthma to dementia. CO2 is worse

The science about CO2 in a nutshell: if the global economy emits more than ~1428 giga tonnes we expose ourselves to dangerous climate change. This will cause massive damage to society globally, and, if unchecked, bring about the extinction of our species. We know the total CO2 budget for all sectors, and we know that shipping’s GHG represents approximately 2–3%. With expectations for continued growth in world trade and corresponding transport demand, coupled with GHG emissions reducing fast from other sectors, then shipping’s GHG intensity (gCO2/t.nm) would, across the whole sector, need to reduce by about 85%. If shipping is to remain on average at 2–3% the total emissions that can be emitted are 33 giga tonnes. Boom! That’s it, right there – the challenge.

In the absence of voluntary, ambitious action embracing that challenge what might stimulate a race? There’s enough technology, but no motivation.

I’ve had the dubious benefit of working in F1. The key driver (ahem) for delivering winning solutions is regulation. Rules for engines, tyres, drivers behaviour; some of it saves lives and some, we could say, ‘seizes business benefits’. The show attracts crowds, TV revenues, and corporate sponsors – all wooing consumers. If teams fail to get cars on the grid for the start of every race the sport’s governing body levies eye-watering fines. You spoil the show, you pay for it. Each team comprises hundreds of people from all disciplines – engineering and fuels, materials and aerodynamics, commerce and legal, psychology and fitness. It’s the regulation and resulting financial hits that focuses everyone’s minds. Regulation in F1 isn’t seen as ‘red tape’ but accepted as necessary governance for making sure the majority benefit.

Air pollution causes real harm. We, collectively, have been trying to limit health damage caused by emissions over the last 50 years by putting limits in place. By cheating VW’s actions had tangible consequences. People died. Environmental regulations are not pesky red tape but essential mechanisms for saving our lives.

Reducing emissions by 85% from the shipping sector is an awesome challenge – beats the pants off driving cars round and round in circles! It’s technically and commercially demanding, creatively applying technology, developing winning teams, delivering awesome solutions, chucking ‘all nighters’, pushing boundaries, living on the edge. Glittering prizes await the winners – multiple business benefits – but it needs strict regulation to optimise the potential for the whole industry. Yes! It’s an extraordinary challenge – let’s introduce the F1 approach into shipping.



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