Ambition and action: Decarbonising shipping

Discussing decarbonisation: Ambition 1.5 provided a forum for progressive companies Discussing decarbonisation: Ambition 1.5 provided a forum for progressive companies

The recent Ambition 1.5 event united progressive shipping executives to plot shipping’s voyage to decarbonisation. Co-organiser Catherine Austin reports.

The date was November 13, the location: Bonn. Just a stone’s throw from the epicentre of the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A river boat, transformed into a nerve centre for shipping decarbonisation action, provided the venue for a powerful coalition of the willing to gather and chart the industry’s decarbonisation course.

It was the wide consensus that the international shipping fleet must rapidly decarbonise that catalysed one hundred and fifty ambitious and commercially-savvy leaders, strategists and innovators to gather and incite action during the COP23 proceedings. All held a common aim of sparking the development of an action plan to align the decarbonisation of international shipping with the target of limiting global temperatures to a 1.5C rise on pre-industrial levels, as stated in the Paris Agreement 2015.

Dubbed ‘Ambition 1.5: Global Shipping’s Action Plan’, the summit was firmly rooted in the COP23 events agenda thanks to official endorsement by the UNFCCC partners: the incoming Fijian Presidency of COP23; the German Federal Ministry for the Environment; Nature Conservation; Building and Nuclear Safety; and the City of Bonn. The event was co-organised by a powerful alliance that included Lloyd’s Register, MAN Diesel & Turbo, RightShip, MARIKO, Danish Shipping, the International Windship Association (IWSA), Smart Green Shipping Alliance (SGSA), Green Ship of the Future, the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI), Carbon War Room and UMAS with The Blue Green Events Company driving the events management functions.

Unlike many commercial shipping industry events with a presentation-heavy, talking shop format, this summit set out with the strong intention of generating tangible action through all-delegate participation from the get go. This was not a summit for the faint hearted. Forced into small working groups of mixed stakeholder composition, delegates were thrust into thrashing out what the industry needed to do, by when and figuring out what tools were available to take action. No stone was left unturned and when wandering around eavesdropping across the multiple working groups it was highly apparent that all discussions focussed not on the if and when, but rather how to get started. This was prospered by enforced ‘Chatham House’ rules that empowered all delegates to contribute their ideas, knowledge and experiences, but with all information captured by industry’s brightest graduates and PHd students for later injection into the Action Plan development process.


Ship owners participated in the working groups of course –it goes without saying that their role was vital, and you may have seen some of those that are more vocal in the media in the wake of the summit, namely Maersk and Hapag Lloyd. But, the involvement of the wider community of ship owners and their alignment with this work starts now – that was always the plan. The summit was merely the spark to get things started, and I’m pleased to report that we have received much interest from both individual owners and regional ship owner associations keen to input into the Action Plan now being developed.

One of the key ‘takeaways’ from the summit was that the international shipping industry does have the necessary technology toolbox required for decarbonisation. However, participants were unanimous in their agreement that the solutions required are in different stages of development - not yet mature, or require significant upscaling for deployment and market readiness.

Other commitments to the Action Plan development included making a container ship available as a test/demonstrator vessel for low carbon and zero emissions technologies and working towards the establishment of a CO2 levy to stimulate the uptake of clean technology. The push for both the urgent adoption of a science-based target for carbon emissions and for a much tighter, more robust Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) also featured strongly across the working groups.

Enhancing the collaboration between the Think (and Do!)-Tanks and NGOs active in the sector and aligning and pooling their limited resources to improve impact and to create a powerful platform for cross-stakeholder engagement was a key commitment made. There was strong call to change corporate cultures and operations to collaborate more intensively with small, innovative equipment suppliers and to further embed more ambitious R&D into company structures.

So, what’s next? One thing is certain, the work doesn’t stop here. This initial summit was only the initial grumble from a much larger beast. Work on the action plan development begins now with first development milestones expected to be communicated in early 2018.

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