Macron’s environmental policies threaten shipping

The issue of shipping is rarely an issue at the G7 meeting unless ships are being sunk or hijacked. So, the French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement about ‘slow steaming’ is worth taking note of.

In a speech at the beginning of the meeting in Biarritz he said that the French government was looking to “engage” with the shipping industry to encourage slow-steaming. This has been the approach of the French government for a year or so, reflecting its stance at the International Maritime Organisation where it is attempting to introduce a speed limit for large cargo vessels. However, it also reflected the French government’s wider intention to target the shipping sector as part of its environmental policy.

For example, alongside the policy announcements on slow steaming, he also called on the shipping sector to avoid using the ‘Northern Sea Route’, through the Russian Arctic, saying “this route will kill us in the end, because this route may well be quicker, but it is the consequence of our past irresponsibility”. The French based shipping line CMA CGM endorsed this approach with its CEO, Rodolphe Saadé, tweeting that “I decided that CMA CGM will not to use the Northern Sea Route. This is a bold choice for the preservation of the Arctic that has an essential role in regulating ocean currents and global climate patterns.”

All of this is an augur for the shipping sector. However dubious the arguments, the pressure is on shipping to improve its ‘environmental’ credentials.

This may result in pressure to adopt new propulsion technology beyond the bunker fuel emission regulations. It is always dangerous to make guesses about the future of technology but possibly hydrogen or, more probably, LNG-fuelled vessels could emerge as a significant element in shipping. This may have an impact on the cost of sea freight as the capital cost of building new vessels with such technology is very likely to be higher than conventional ships. Possibly some vessels may have to be retrofitted with new engines.

Whatever the impact on ship design it seems that the pressure on freight transport to respond to environmental politics, however misconceived or ineffective certain policies may be, is likely to continue in the short to medium term. This is another supply chain risk to be factored into a rapidly changing pattern of world trade.

Source: Transport Intelligence, August 29, 2018

Author: Thomas Cullen


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