Global Britain must not miss the boat to establish itself as an environmental leader in the maritime sector
The maritime sector is acutely aware of its environmental footprint and keen to make changes. However, it needs some clear direction from government.
London International Shipping Week (LISW) is finally upon us. Few events draw the sheer breadth of global expertise across as many sectors as LISW. This year it’s hybrid, but there’s lots of events taking place. Spend ten minutes walking through the stands and you may speak to a marine technician, a radar specialist, and a sustainability economist. But with COP26 on the horizon and 18 months of pandemic difficulty, this year’s LISW comes at a critical time for both the industry and Britain.
While the pandemic threw a sharp light on the vulnerability of our supply chains, and Covid restrictions reduced travel, perhaps no sector caught the public imagination as much as the maritime industry.
Cruise companies were one of the first to be hit as the sector ground to a halt, and the freight sector proved to be worth its weight in gold (or toilet rolls). We can all remember the empty shelves in supermarkets and the booked-out delivery slots for weeks and weeks as goods failed to arrive in the UK. And how many millions of us watched through our fingers as the Evergiven attempted to Tetris its way out of the Suez Canal, costing an estimated £12bn dollars a day in delayed trade?
For many millions of people around the world, the events of the last 18 months may well have been the first time they had to think about the work that goes into keeping their shelves stocked and Amazon orders flowing.
Maritime is fundamental for those communities often overlooked and are at the core of government’s levelling up strategy
But with COP26 taking place next month, industry bodies are now pushing government to work with them on various policy initiatives to keep the British maritime industry commercially and environmentally competitive in the 21st century.
During my time as Maritime Minister, we pushed the sector forward, publishing the Government’s Maritime 2050, the Clean Maritime Plan, and our first ever Maritime Safety Action Plan.
In my capacity as a Trustee of The Seafarers’ Charity, I am fortunate to hear and see first-hand some of the ambitions and concerns of our seafarers. This is why I’ve spent the last year campaigning for all of them to be treated as keyworkers and to put in place portside vaccinations.
It’s worth reminding ourselves just how critical our maritime industry is; 95 per cent of all UK goods trade by volume comes from the sea, as does 48 per cent of all food supplies, and 25 per cent of our energy. The sector supports over a million jobs, and globally London punches above its weight as the legal maritime hub. And at a regional level, maritime is fundamental for those communities often overlooked and are at the core of government’s levelling up strategy.
The government has made good progress on Maritime 2050; a commitment to freeports outlined by the Chancellor in March was welcome, and a refreshed National Shipbuilding Strategy is also on the horizon. The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan also included £20 million for a competition to trial clean maritime technology.
Yet with COP26 bringing with it an intense focus on green technology and infrastructure, the UK runs the risk of falling behind both commercially and on our own climate change commitments. The maritime sector is acutely aware of its environmental footprint and keen to make changes. However, it needs some clear direction from government. So what needs to happen?
In a report for Policy Exchange, titled, “A Global Maritime Power”, I reflected on the changes to Maritime 2050 accounting for Covid and Brexit. The report offers clear focus on where the government must take a lead.
First, it should introduce a Green Maritime Finance plan as soon as possible, setting the direction for the future of shipping decarbonisation. This could be informed by the UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions (UK-SHORE), and the government should send a clear signal to investors that it is going down the route of low and zero emission shipping technologies.
Second, we should build upon the success of the Prime Minister’s fantastic Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition. Heavily oversubscribed, the competition tapped into the innovation, entrepreneurialism, and scientific knowledge we are blessed to have in boatloads here in the UK. Launching similar schemes to harness this talent, with government funding to push forward the ideas, is exactly what’s needed.
Finally, our government should use COP26 to encourage every single country signed up to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to develop their own plans as to how they are going to make their maritime industries green.
Global Britain has a chance to establish itself as an environmental leader in the maritime sector; it would be a burning shame to miss the boat.
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