How the IMO’s Global Industry Alliance is promoting a low-carbon future for shipping

The Global Industry Alliance launched at the end of June to help break down the barriers blocking the shipping industry from moving more quickly towards a low-carbon era. With stricter environmental controls incoming and industry activity sluggish, could this coalition of shipowners, builders, consultancies, classification societies and oil companies succeed in stimulating the move towards a more efficient shipping sector? Joe Baker finds out more.


Under increasing scrutiny from politicians looking to meet the requirements of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is stepping up its efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the shipping industry. Earlier this year, the organisation held talks with representatives from 170 nations, which resulted in a seven-step outline for an interim greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction plan due in 2018.

Alongside the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the IMO has now looked to maritime industry leaders to help support the sector’s move to energy-efficient, low-carbon systems for shipping.

This has led to establishment of the Global Industry Alliance (GIA), a conglomeration of shipbuilders, operators, consultancies, oil companies and classification societies brought together under the GEF-UNDP-IMO Global Maritime Energy Efficiency Partnerships (GloMEEP) Project.

“By formalising the GIA, we hope to stimulate continued R&D efforts, publicise advances in technology development and positive initiatives by the industry, initiate a global industry dialogue, and implement capacity building and information exchange activities,” says GloMEEP technical adviser Astrid Dispert.

“What I anticipate is that the GIA will help to address some of the challenges and barriers to the uptake of energy efficiency technologies, whether it is infrastructure, lack of decision-making tools or the sharing of data and knowledge between companies without losing competitive advantage,” she adds.

Among the various shipping companies in the GIA is Ricardo UK, a strategic environmental consultancy firm specialising in transport. The company’s industrial and defence director Simon Brewster explained why GIA’s promotion of energy-efficient systems will be so important for the maritime sector in the future.

“It gives us the opportunity to extend the life of our limited natural resources,” he says. “As the trading of quantities of goods between continents increases, being able to do this more efficiently and sustainably, both in terms of fuel used and in terms of pollution generated, is really critical for the future of shipping.”

Making progress

The IMO has already adopted mandatory energy-efficient requirements for ships, such as its Energy Efficiency Design Index for new-builds and Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan. The GloMEEP project is now working to help countries develop legal, policy and institutional reforms that will allow them to meet these energy efficiency regulations.

However, Dispert claims that while regulations can act as a driver for technology uptake, there still need to be processes in place to inform stakeholders in the industry and encourage them to support the overall goal of efficiency.

"Governments, regulators and enforcers need to understand and know the regulations inside out."

“It is not enough just to try and drive reform through the regulatory process or through capacity-building in government departments,” she says. “We also need to involve the industry and reach all the relevant stakeholders.”

“Governments, regulators and enforcers need to understand and know the regulations inside out, and the shipping industry has to work to ensure they meet the requirements. The GIA provides a pathway for companies to support all these processes.”

With this in mind, the first purpose of the GIA was to establish which specific projects they want to discuss. A GIA task force established five priority areas, including energy efficiency technologies (EETs) and operational best practices; alternative fuels and energy carriers; digital transformation and data transparency; ports; and what the project calls the ‘human element’.

“Specific activities within these broad areas of collaboration are currently being drafted and initiated,” says Dispert.

Barriers to decarbonisation

According to the IMO, the GIA’s objective is to break down common barriers to the installation of energy-efficient technologies. One such barrier is that that there are still uncertainties about how technologies and fuels will be available, and how ships will change in years to come.

“We almost need a crystal ball to see into the future, which is the challenge,” Brewster says. “If we're going to do something different, it will take a greater degree of understanding what the vessel of the future will look like and how it will be operated.”

It is this uncertainty which the GIA aims to address. In addition to financing the alliance’s activities, companies will provide expertise from their perspective of the industry in order to help identify the issues involved with energy efficiency. Ricardo, for example, will leverage its years of experience providing more efficient transport systems across several industries.

"Companies will provide expertise from their perspective of the industry."

“We’re deeply engaged in decarbonisation of the automotive sector, the heavy-duty sector, and engineering in rail,” Brewster says. “All of these experiences from using cutting-edge technology there, we can bring also to the marine sector.”

However, it’s difficult for Brewster to say which aspects of energy efficiency will be the most important in the long run, and how long they would take to implement. For example, the automotive sector has made progress towards electrification, but for ship operators to invest in this would require additional landside infrastructure, not to mention the question of how far vessels would be able to travel on electricity.

“Understanding where to put your money is the key role of the GIA really; to bring together the different pieces of the puzzle technologically, operationally and in terms of the regulatory framework,” says Brewster.

Nonetheless, Dispert is clear to say that the alliance’s main goal will be to try and break down the barriers to the implementation of specific technologies or alternative fuels, rather than specify which of them must be implemented. “That has to be a decision for ship operators/owners,” she says.

Collaborations for climate change

The GIA is not the only alliance of shipping companies aiming to push the industry towards a more efficient future.

In March last year, the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) released a roadmap of sustainable objectives for the industry to hit by 2040. Bringing together 17 shipping firms and suppliers, the SSI aims to achieve up to 90% reductions in carbon emissions through a variety of methods, including installing advanced power management systems on ships and reducing speeds to decrease fuel consumption.

The increasing collaboration between maritime industry leaders is not only helping drive the industry towards tangible goals, but it is also vital for discussing the broad task of decarbonisation.

“I think the point here is that no stakeholder, alone, can deal with the complexities the planet faces in addressing the challenge of climate change. More than ever, we require collaborations at all levels,” says Dispert.

Nevertheless, while alliances such as the GIA could spur shipping companies to increase energy efficiency, it will ultimately be crucial for the IMO to confirm a global carbon reduction plan over the next few years, and set a comprehensive emissions target for the industry to reach.

“In reality, the only organisation that can seize that and drive that forward globally is the IMO in association with the UN and its drive for decarbonisation in the general sense,” says Brewster.