Greater regulation is required to ensure the entire maritime industry gets on board with sustainability, said an expert speaking at an Abu Dhabi conference on Thursday.
Leading experts explained how the majority of shipping firms are eager to adopt ethical policies to reduce the industry's impact on the environment.
However, they warned such policies could not be fully embraced until there was wider regulation ensuring the industry as a whole was playing by the same rules.
“For sustainability to work, it needs to be profitable, otherwise we might as well not do it at all,” Erland Ebbersten, group vice president of marine and energy for shipping firm GAC, told The National on the sidelines of the Maritime Sustainable Practices, the Nordic Way seminar in the UAE capital.
“In order to make this happen, there needs to be a level playing field and we need governments to actually regulate it.
“Without regulation, some people will do [sustainable] things while others will not, [and] then it means you won't be competing on an equal footing.”
Need to come clean
The issue of sustainability within the sector is a particularly pressing one as the industry accounts for 3 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, according to a World Bank report in 2022.
The vast majority of the world's 100,000 cargo ships – which carry 90 per cent of the world's goods – are powered by diesel.
This makes it the sixth-largest greenhouse gas emitter globally, ranking between Japan and Germany.
“Everybody has to adopt sustainable practices or it is just not going to work,” Mr Ebbersten said.
In July, the UAE Maritime Decarbonisation Centre was launched in the Emirates to ensure the adoption of sustainable practices, technologies and policies in the maritime sector.
Another expert speaking at the event explained how adopting sustainable policies was not only the right thing to do, it was also a practical choice.
Shipping out solutions
“Our customers are demanding it and we have to make the transition,” said Christopher Cook, area managing director for shipping firm Maersk.
“The will is there from the industry as a whole to adopt more sustainable practices, not just in alternative fuels but in general.”
On September 14, the maiden voyage of his company's first ship powered by e-methanol, rather than traditional fuel, will take place.
E-methanol is created by combining green hydrogen and captured carbon dioxide.
“Three years ago there were no ships running on e-methanol anywhere in the world,” Mr Cook said.
“Now there are 120 ships on the way across the entire industry.”
Earlier this summer, the global maritime industry committed to a deadline of reaching net zero by the year 2050.
The agreement was reached in July at a conference of the UN's International Maritime Organisation in London.
Thursday's conference in Abu Dhabi also involved representatives from Nordic nations in attendance to share best practices on sustainability.
“We have seen in Sweden how to have economic growth and at the same time reduce emissions,” said Ola Pihlblad, deputy head of mission at the Swedish embassy in the UAE.
“Sweden has seen a lot of investments in sustainability for example when it comes to green batteries and fossil free steel.”