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What the Clean Maritime Plan Means for The UK Marine Sector

  • by: Maxime Robert
  • On: 2, Nov 2018
3 min read

UK shipping is a huge industry. The UK’s shipping sector supports nearly a million jobs in the UK and contributes £40 billion to the economy. It is responsible for 95% of the UK’s import and export; this may change after Brexit, but whatever the outcome, shipping will remain vital to UK trade.

It has always been widely accepted that shipping is an industry with high pollution levels. However, the true extent of this pollution around UK ports has actually been found as four times higher than previously thought.

Why the UK Marine Industry Needs to Change

Sea pollutants and their resulting air pollutants can cause health problems for the local population. Air pollution can work its way into the lungs, triggering asthma, impairing lung function and causing disease. Some air pollutants have been linked to cancer and are attributed to 40,000 deaths a year in the UK alone.

Air pollution is the 4th biggest threat to public health, only behind cancer, heart disease and obesity. Domestic shipping counts for over 10% of the country’s nitrous oxide emissions.

For decades the shipping industry hasn’t been held to the same standards as other industries for two reasons. Cargo ships require massive amounts of fuel at as cheap a price as possible. Fuel costs count for around 50-60% of the total ship operating costs, so a change to a cleaner (and more expensive) fuel has simply been out of the question for Marine businesses. The 15 largest ships in the world emit as much nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide as the world’s 760 million cars, amounting to around 812 million tonnes of CO2.

What Is the Clean Maritime Plan?

The Clean Maritime Council had its first meeting in October to discuss how best to move forward and lower emissions both in the UK and around the world. Opened by the Minister for Maritime Nusrat Ghani, the Council aims to lower UK marine emissions to 0%. The global target is to reduce shipping’s greenhouse gases by 50% by 2050.

Globally, we are currently not on track to meet the projected reduction of emissions necessary to keep the planet at a sustainable climate. Even if the limit set by The Paris Agreement were met, there would still be heatwaves dangerous to human health, more storms and more powerful hurricanes, and widespread extinction of animal species. The extent to which these predictions come true will depend largely on the how we act in the next few years.

Made up of maritime experts, Marine scientists and industry thought leaders, the Clean Maritime Council’s plan will be published next year, outlining what the government and UK Marine businesses should do to lower emissions. 

What the UK Marine Industry Can Expect from The Clean Maritime Plan

While no hard details of the plan have been announced yet, one can speculate that it will focus on immediate lowering of emissions by changing to different fuel sources, and have long-term plans in place to change the industry at large from the ground up.

1. Lowering of Sulphur Emissions

The IMO has already begun work on implementing new regulations that will cut sulphur emissions from ships down from 3.5% to just 0.5% by 2020. This is to be achieved by a switch to cleaner fuel with less sulphur content.

2. Use Smart Materials to Lower Weight

Graphite and carbon fibre are just two of the materials that can help drastically lower the weight of ships. Graphite and carbon fibre materials need to burn less fuel in order to travel, having a direct impact on the overall level of Marine pollution.

3. Use Clean Energy to Power Ships

China already has a ship running on electric energy but uses it to transport coal to power stations, which is still contributing to Marine pollution, however electric powered ships are a new reality. Solar panels and sails can generate enough power to run all the auxiliary systems on a ship and hybrid power can drive the engines. Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) is also being considered as a cleaner alternative to crude oil.

Learn about how Marine travel has changed in the last hundred years, or read more about why it’s so important to fight for the ocean.

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