Shipowners are by and by starting to realize that they have to act now if they want a place at the table when the future environmental requirements are set down. And this is good, because there is no way around it.
Even though shipping was left out at the COP21 climate summit in Paris, the industry will inevitably be forced to reduce its environmental footprint. As such, stakeholders need to act now if they want to keep the sector from being tangled up in a morass of rules and requirements on which the industry has had zero influence, says Niels Smedegaard, Chairman of the European Community Shipowners' Association, ECSA, and CEO of carrier DFDS.
He points to a change of atmosphere ahead of this week's meeting of the UN's International Maritime Organization, IMO, at which several decisions could be made which will impact the carriers' future.
We have to play a long and make suggestions instead of being pleased and relieved that shipping was not included in the COP21 paper"
"I sense that the shipping industry has woken up," he tells ShippingWatch, stressing the importance of the European shipowning associations entering active dialogs with politicians and international decision-making bodies.
"We're ready to participate in these discussions so that we can influence the future in which we'll be sailing. It would be extremely unfortunate if the parties opt to sit in separate corners without having a dialog, as that would result in regional solutions which would be harmful to the industry while not helping the environment. As such, we have to come up with the best solutions by working together," says Niels Smedegaard.
A majority is on board
The Chairman's statements come on the same day, Monday, as the member states gather in the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee, MEPC, to, among other topics, discuss a mandatory system for global monitoring of shipping's CO2 emissions.
This is the first IMO meeting since COP21 in December last year, at which shipping and aviation wound up not being included in the final climate accord. A decision that was met with mixed reactions from the industry.
"Some view this as a victory, while others take it as a defeat, but it doesn't change the fact that the shipping industry still needs to shoulder some of the responsibility," says Niels Smedegaard.
However, he is pleased that this seems to have dawned on most of the members of the European Community Shipowners' Association, for which he has served as Chairman since October last year.
"We have been having these discussions for a long time now, and we've senses a mood change toward a more proactive way of thinking. We have to play a long and make suggestions instead of being pleased and relieved that shipping was not included in the COP21 paper. That just doesn't work," says the Chairman.
Crisis is no excuse
The joint effort from the shipping industry should be coordinated through bodies such as the ECSA and the International Chamber of Shipping, which includes members such as China and India.
Here the European representatives are currently working to nudge the skeptics toward a more climate friendly approach. And these efforts are actually going quite well, says Niels Smedegaard, though he acknowledges that the depressed market conditions could help reduce the drive to spend money on reducing CO2 emissions.
"Of course, when numerous carriers are struggling to stay alive and find it difficult to look two or three years ahead, it can be tough to accept something that increases costs dramatically here and now. But these discussions look ahead to 2030, 2040 and 2050, so we need to have these discussions regardless of the short-term crisis in which we find ourselves today," he says, adding that it is no use sticking one's head in the sand in light of these challenges.
"The shipping industry will continue to play a central role in solving the world's transportation needs going forward, so it's no excuse to not participate in these talks," says the ECSA Chairman.