Shipping divided on Macron’s go-slow movement

Shipping is divided on French president Emmanuel Macron’s call on Saturday to legislate for a global speed limit for ships.

Macron said ahead of hosting the G7 summit in Biarritz over the weekend that getting world shipping to commit to slower speeds would be at the top of his environmental agenda. France has already tabled the measure at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in April this year, something that has been supported by Greece, and will be discussed further at a technical meeting at IMO’s London headquarters in November.

Jean-Marc Roué, president of Armateurs de France, the French shipowners’ association, applauded Macron’s televised statement, telling Splash: “Today, the most relevant solution is also the most manageable and readily accessible, and that is to reduce the speed of bulk carriers, which make up two thirds of the world’s fleets.”

Armateurs de France and the Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition of France worked together to submit the initial speed limit proposal to the IMO in April.

“As with all regulatory measures for shipping, ship speed regulations must be applied globally. Diplomacy should be used to bring all countries on board and the IMO must follow through with action,” Roué said.

Philippe Louis-Dreyfus, shipping’s original champion of slow-steaming legislation, who was also responsible for personally engaging Macron on the issue, was ecstatic with the French president’s public comments from Biarritz.

“I am particularly proud to see France taking the lead of such an important question,” Louis-Dreyfus told Splash. “Reducing/optimising speed is by far the easiest, most efficient, and simplest, solution to reduce ship emissions.”

Olaf Merk, the Paris-based ports and shipping expert at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) International Transport Forum (ITF), also applauded Macron’s move, saying it was necessary while the industry grappled with finding the right future technologies to slash its carbon footprint.

“Shipping – like other sectors – urgently needs to reduce emissions. Regulating ship speed is a good measure that can be implemented in the short term, in anticipation of the roll out of zero-carbon ships that will take some more time,” Merk said.

Faig Abbasov, shipping programme manager at the NGO, Transport & Environment, said speed limits represent the most immediate and effective measure to cut ship greenhouse gas emissions.

“The November meeting of the IMO will be key to make substantial progress on this. At stake is not only climate climate, but also IMO’s reputation as a capable authority to help clean up the sector,” Abbasov said.

Other short-term measures taken forward at IMO for further discussion in November are a goal-based operational efficiency metrics proposal championed by Denmark and a Japanese idea to install shaft power limits on all ships.

The world’s largest two shipping bodies have made their positions clear on the ship speed debate, distancing themselves from Macron’s call.

Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), said his lobbying group was not in favour of the French proposal.

“Simply introducing a mandatory speed limit can have negative impacts on the efficiency of an engine, in the worst cases resulting in increasing emissions,” Platten told Splash.

Reducing the speed of ships can negatively impact developing economies, Platten argued, pointing out that reducing speed can result in developing economies being even further from their markets and their potential customers due to increased journey times.

BIMCO’s deputy secretary general, Lars Robert Pedersen, also said his organisation was against legislation on ship speeds.

“BIMCO agrees that sailing at lower speed generally means lower emissions,” Pedersen conceded, before adding: “Setting mandatory speed limits is however not the right tool to achieve the emissions reductions that we all seek. Emissions correlate narrowly to the power output of ships’ engines and regulating how much power a ship can utilise under normal operating conditions would achieve the goal of reducing emissions while also being enforceable from a regulatory perspective.”

Marin Dorsman, the secretary general of the European Community Shipowners’ Association (ECSA), told Splash yesterday the go-slow movement needs “careful consideration”.

“The shipping industry is a very diversified industry and mandatory speed reduction might have different and perhaps unwanted consequences,” Dorsman said.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Let’s assume you have 1000 ships. All slows down. That means you literally reduce supply of shipping service. Then, you will need another e.g. 100 ships to fill in the gap. Total emission level returns back. It is an illogical solution.
    Second, ships account 1% of global emission. Cars account almost 10%. Why dont we talk about high speed limit (80km+) for cars?
    Third, why dont we talk about imposing ban or limit to large size car engines? Do we have to make certain economies happy?
    Fourth, why dont we talk about house heating? Do we have to make every corner of our home hot? Do we have to excuse some societies heating entire home while many societies in Northern Asia are patient not to heat entire house but a part of it?

    There are much much big portions of savings in other aspects of life. These touch directly to individual voters, so we avoid such policies. In other words, playing around real problems.

    And shipowners are probably expecting an upward momentum with this supply reduction. So again, it is not environment, it is your pocket to make comfortable.

    1. Hi Debais. Sorry to contradict you but necessary to challenge some of your findings.
      1. Yes, you need increased number of vessels to maintain an equivalent service but overall the emission reduction is still significant. This was proven during the GFC in 2008 when everyone voluntarily reduced speed to save money.
      2. Globally shipping is about 3% of global emissions, international shipping being about 2.3% of that. All transport is ~23% of all emissions with land transport about 70% of that total, cars are a subset of land transport emissions. I fully agree we should discuss speed restrictions for cars if this is proven to reduce emissions, we could further and use economic instruments to force reductions of private car use in favour of public transport. But we need to have both discussions simultaneously. The science is very clear, all sectors must decarbonise at speed.
      3. Yes, alongside the urgent debate on reducing shipping emissions, we should also discuss our sad love affair with big motors when small or alternative engines are often far more appropriate.
      4. Yes again, ships, cars, houses – in fact we really are going to have revolutionalise most aspects of our lives to survive. However, we will not address this crisis by looking to exclude some sectors. So sooner we get on with what measures we are implementing immediately, which in the next 3 years and which by 2030 the better. And of course, there is no sense delaying discussions on market measures – carbon taxes, levies, research and development funds, carrots and sticks.

      1. Hi Peter,

        I believe there is a confusion. Let me articulate this further.
        When freight rates are low, shipowners reduce speed because of ‘low demand’. What if demand is not low, but you reduce supply.
        That is completely different story. When I and anyone argue, our argument is “other things equal” basis.

        So, assume demand is same. Reducing speed means reducing supply. The supply gap will need to be filled. That means we will need more ships at slow speed to fill the gap. I am curious if that would be possible to consider when freight market was high. Emission is same and even more. Can we try to impose speed limit during the next recovery? I am sure they would lobby with the fact that slow speed is just supply reduction. Economically non-sense.

        In this regard, “other things equal”, as far as demand is there, slow speed will not reduce emission or it will be at negligible level.

        My point is that such a credit of a leading politician must be invested on major things. If they will prefer not debating on real things and calling their counterparts to look their own big emitters, then it will never make an impact.
        That is called ‘politics’ and its game. You just close your eyes and mouth to major things, but be noisy on whatever you find comfortable to talk.

        Problem is not ships. As you well said, ships follow demand of ours. When we demand less, they naturally slow down. Problem is us, people.

        How can we limit the energy use of households (individual)?
        Do we plan to impose individual emission limit? How about my car, my electricity use, my meat consumption (causes 5% of Methane emission which is more dangerous than CO2 or sulphur) and so on.
        In brief, is there any plan to consider “social habits”, “life style”, “luxury spending” and other essential drivers of this giant emission generator system?
        Which instruments can help reducing them?

        1. Your reply has probably illustrated why so many climate movements have faltered and why this whole story is so slow to resolve itself. We started with a piece about a call for a speed reduction or limit on shipping and we have reached far and wide across the world of farting cows and solar panels but we have not taken any steps forward because solving the problems of the world are far too enormous for most people to grasp and because no voters really know, understand or even care about the maritime industry.
          In the meantime, we try to make baby steps with IMO2020 and LNG and we keep calm and carry on.

  2. The question of speed is not always a pure choice or economic decision. Shipowners only operate at higher speeds when they are paid to do so – directly or indirectly. Also, many vessels were slowed after the GFC and high bunker prices of 10 years ago and many liner trades added an extra ship to compensate for the slower overall productivity, so the possibility to reduce speed further really is not possible everywhere (leaving aside the engineering aspects of whether engines can operate even more slowly).
    On the other side, a shipowner only increases speed in order to meet a laycan or to compensate for lost time due to bad weather and other delays along the way. For the rest, he will pootle along as originally intended and try to burn a little juice as possible.
    While speed and reliability are not interchangeable, speed is certainly a tool which helps you get to where you need to be to provide a service/schedule and to meet your C/P obligations and, at a time when some shippers and forwarders are calling for increased reliability (and the ability to communicate same), a general speed restriction on ships would not go down too well with most in the trade.

Back to top button