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IMO ponders green-tech, digital future for shipping industry

On Tuesday May 15th, the International Maritime Organisation hosted a high-level, live-streamed debate on its role as a regulator in the future of shipping and international trade.

The debate on the future of the IMO was part of 70th anniversary events throughout this year; the initial IMO convention was adopted in 1948.

IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim in opening remarks celebrated the most recent country to join the IMO, Republic of Nauru, bringing the total number of member states to 174.

Panel moderator Richard Clayton, Chief Correspondent, Lloyd’s List, said that developments outside the shipping sector, particularly the renewable energy revolution and digitalisation, could have profound implications for shipping, and posed the question of how IMO regulations can keep pace with technological change.

Knut Ørbeck Nilssen, Chairman of IACS Council, and DNV GL’s Maritime business area CEO: “The maritime community is committed to finding solutions to reaching the ambitious IMO decarbonisation goal. Lots of research needs to be done.”

“We need to distinguish between autonomous shipping and unmanned shipping. For the high seas I think we will not see unmanned vessels for a very long time to come. But there are all sorts of specialist maritime applications for increased automation.”

Alan McKinnon, Professor of Logistics at, Kuehne Logistics University, and Emeritus Professor of Logistics at Heriot Watt University: “I don’t see anything on the horizon that would transform shipping to the extent that containerisation has.”

However, Professor McKinnon pointed out two themes that could significantly change the business: a switch away from fossil fuels to alternative fuels, and 3D printing. “In light of recent developments, people are recalibrating their models, and additive manufacturing will have an effect in damping demand for seaborn freight.”

“Electrification – maybe that’s a black swan. Maybe by 2050 we will have found a way to include decarbonized electricity within the maritime sector. That would be transformational.”

[Regarding efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions] “We need to think of emissions in terms of the end-to-end supply chain, including ports and hinterland.”

[Speed management has an immediate impact on CO2 emissions] “Average containership speeds have been reduced by 10-15% after the financial crisis, and most users of shipping have accepted that.”

Xiaojie Zhang, Chair, IMO Council: “Looking in the past, IMO was mostly reactive. Now we want to be the facilitator of the adoption of new technologies.”

Peter Thomson, United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean: “There’s no doubt we’re moving towards a greener, more sustainable future. Why? Because we have to. The Paris Agreement is essential for humanity’s survival.”

“There is no central UN agency on the ocean. 40 separate agencies have a finger in the ocean pie. They are collaborating, I’m not worried about that. What worries me is that ocean health continues to decline, in terms of acidification, pollution, and rising sea levels. However I’m confident we can reverse this decline in 10 years.”

Peter spoke of his visit to the electric ferries in Norway, using renewable electricity from hydropower. This technology could benefit many African coastlines, he said. “Lots of African countries have hydropower, and mainly coastal shipping.”

Diane Gilpin, Founder, Smart Green, Shipping Alliance: “Primary renewable energy is the key opportunity for shipping, and the way we implement that is collaboration. The IMO has shown it has the ability to bring disparate people together to reach groundbreaking agreements.”

“We need to look at the enabling structures around green technology. We need to look at the financing structures used in renewable energy, and bring them over into the shipping industry.”
Source: GSCC

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