There is no doubt that the maritime industry is on a transformative journey. 

This is a period of rapid innovation – from alternative fuels to new technologies – and collaborative action towards a smarter, clearer future.

Who are the key industry players in the UK?   

  • IMO (the International Maritime Organization) is the United Nations specialised agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships. IMO’s work supports the UN SDGs, helps to create a level playing-field, and encourages innovation and efficiency. The promotion of sustainable shipping is one of IMO’s key priorities.
  • The UK Chamber of Shipping is the trade association and voice of the UK shipping industry, working with Government, parliament, international organisations and others to champion and protect the industry on behalf of its members. The UK Chamber is clear that tackling climate change is a top priority; arguing for a Green Industrial Revolution, and calling for greater government action and increased investment in R&D to accelerate the transition to a greener shipping industry.

Where is the industry now? 

It’s worth noting that, statistically, shipping is the least environmentally damaging mode of transport, when its productive value is taken into consideration. It is considered the most carbon efficient mode of carriage.

Furthermore, it’s estimated that the global fleet’s carbon footprint has been reduced by approximately 19% in the last 10 years, a period which has also seen a 60% increase in world fleet tonnage – commendable progress towards in going green.  

What is the industry working towards?

While much has already been done to improve environmental responsibility, the maritime industry is committed to accelerating its decarbonisation journey.

Current IMO regulations require the global shipping industry to cut emissions by 50% (compared to 2008 levels – by 2050), however a host of nations and industry bodies (including the UK Chamber of Shipping and the International Chamber of Shipping) are calling for a doubling of this target with a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. 

This comes at the same time as pledges from other industries – for example, in October 2021, the airline industry announced a net zero target by 2050.

The UK government identifies clean growth as both a strategic challenge facing UK business, but also one of the greatest industrial opportunities of our time.  

At London International Shipping Week in September 2021, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps commented; “I warmly welcome the UK Chamber of Shipping’s decisive push in driving forward the transition to net zero international shipping and trade by 2050”.

What’s being done to accelerate this journey?

To achieve net zero, new technology and alternative fuels will need to be developed, with the main thrust of research and innovation occurring before 2030. Other contributing strategies include; ‘slow steaming’ and establishing speed limits; coordinating ‘just-in-time’ arrivals of ships at ports; design refinements such as hull optimisation and propeller optimisation; and enhancements to design efficiency.

In September 2021, IMO’s London-based headquarters set the stage for the launch of ‘Making Waves: The Future of Shipping’ – an exclusive new programme created by CWP in partnership with the UK Chamber of Shipping. The programme shines a spotlight on the efforts already underway to decarbonise and sends a clear call for continued ambitious action. In researching and producing the programme, we were given a taste of the sector’s inspirational work in tackling climate change. 

Here’s a snapshot of what we learnt from programme participants and contributors:

  • EPSRC is bringing together scientists, innovators and industry to research alternative energy sources. In his lab at Durham University, Professor Roskilly’s team is producing environmentally cleaner hydrogen which drives a new design of combustion engine that’s 30% more efficient and carbon free.
  • BMT is working with the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company to deliver a new ship that will be a hybrid of combustion engine supported by an electric power management system.
  • Newcastle University is developing new monitoring systems and new green technologies which will help to make the whole industry more energy efficient. The University’s School of Engineering is home to a Cavitation Tunnel which supports world-leading research on propeller design.
  • Lean Marine’s Fuel Opt system is an optimisation tool for the propulsion machinery on board vessels as well as a speed and consumption management tool.
  • Quadrise Fuels International has developed bioMSAR™, an oil-in-water emulsified synthetic biofuel with lower emissions than conventional fuels.
  • Wärtsilä is conducting leading research in developing both engines and systems that are intended for carbon free fuels, as well as upgrades and retrofits for existing equipment.
  • ABS is deploying innovative simulation technology to test various decarbonisation solutions virtually. 3D simulations will not only show new ship builders how to reduce the cost of future conversions set by regulators, but the technology also reveals how existing vessels can be converted. 
  • Windship Technology has developed a triple-wing rig, harnessing wind to propel the ship through the water.
  • The Sustainable Shipping Initiative is rethinking shipping’s approach to cutting emissions and sustainability by taking a holistic approach across the entire value chain. It has developed a roadmap for the industry to showcase what sustainable shipping can look like across oceans, communities, people, transparency, finance and energy.
  • Global law firm HFW is helping the shipping industry navigate the complex maritime regulatory environment, including the challenging straits of compliance and carbon reduction. Commenting on the commitment of companies in embracing this transformative moment, Joanne Waters, Senior Associate at HFW said: “I think we need to see companies transform the way they work together, because the only way to achieve decarbonisation is through collaboration, and to really have a whole of supply chain solution”.
  • We also spoke with Baroness Brown, Chair of The Carbon Trust, who commented on the urgent need to decarbonise, and the opportunities that lie in producing fuels for low-carbon shipping. She said: “We’ve got to be prepared to actually invest money and fail fast, and pick ourselves up and move on and try new things”.

Following the launch of the programme, CWP Managing Director, Max Smith, said: “With the Decade of Action for sustainable solutions now fully underway, it’s been hugely encouraging to experience the sense of optimism from every corner of the maritime industry. There is no doubt that the industry is facing a grand set of challenges, but this is a highly motivated maritime community, and we are excited to share some of their stories.”

View the full programme here, and learn more about the initiatives mentioned above:

By Rachel Purser-Lowman and Millie Gallagher, Senior Programme Managers, CWP

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