Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Covid-19 is Not the Biggest Threat We Face - but Will World Leaders Admit it and Act?

Shipping Sector Could Take a Lead in the Fight for the Future
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE– In what many will view as a controversial argument a major player in the field of sustainable energy provision has raised a head above the parapet to say that the Covid-19 virus is not the major threat to the planet. What is more the company spokesman has produced facts and figures to back the argument, and says that the shipping sector could be a serious player when it comes to fighting the problem, but only if given the type of support we are seeing at present to defeat the pandemic.

The argument comes from Asbjørn Halsebakke, Product Manager at Yaskawa Environmental Energy / The Switch, and we should start by saying that he stresses that there is no question of diminishing the importance of the Covid-19 outbreak, indeed he goes out of his way to impress his view that the reaction of governments, businesses and the man in the street has been exceptional.

What Halsebakke is keen to communicate is his view, and on consideration an outlook that many will agree with, is that the biggest threat to mankind and the way we live is not a random virus outbreak, but the state of the planet and the deterioration of life quality due to climate change.

He points out that the World Health Organization estimates that seven million people die every year due to air pollution, a figure the virus will have to be around a very long time to equal (hopefully not). The same body reports that between 2030 and 2050 an additional 250,000 deaths will occur each year as a direct result of further global warming, relating to factors such as heat stress and malnutrition. And that’s before we get on to rising sea levels, wildfires, extreme weather and, well, the list goes on.

Halsebakke notes the speed and impact of international response to coronavirus, with national leaders, politicians, businesses and consumers listening to experts, understating the threat and moving to mitigate it in every way possible. Unthinkable policies have been passed without question, with enormous aid packages agreed on, while financial and trade concerns are simply sidelined as we collectively embrace survival mode.

He begs the question therefore, if we can applaud this collective response and achieve so much in so short a time, why can’t governments and the international community respond to the issue of climate change with a similar level of commitment? This is the world’s number one emergency he says, but he feels if the same efforts put into fighting the virus was targeted at industries such as shipping, the world could mitigate the damage done so far, and give hope for the future.

After stressing that he is certainly not downplaying the danger of Covid-19, and reiterating that he has huge sympathy for everyone impacted, in any way, by this crisis, he continues:

”Why hasn’t the climate crisis elicited the same urgent response from global governments as the corona pandemic? When confronted with the terrible threat of viral spread, national leaders from Boris Johnson to Narendra Modi, and from Donald Trump to Xi Jingping, have rapidly introduced emergency measures, the like of which we’ve never before imagined, let alone experienced. Huge swathes of the economy have been shut down, public behaviour and interaction have been transformed, literally overnight.

”As the chief engine for global trade and the enabler that allows us to access the resources and wealth of our ocean space, shipping has a key role to play. We need to change our industry if we are to help change the world. Work is underway. The IMO has set the ambitious, yet crucial, target of reducing GHG emissions by 50% (compared to 2008 levels) by 2050, with the overall aim of eliminating them entirely. This is to be applauded, but it also needs to be supported.

”When I speak to ship owners, I usually find them eager to introduce green technology, help reduce emissions and work towards a more sustainable industry. But, quite frankly, they cannot make this transition alone. They need help. Shipping is a tough and notoriously capital-intensive market. Retrofitting environmentally friendly solutions may not be the first priority when you’re either struggling to stay afloat or edge ahead of the competition in a cut-throat market. At the same time, new building yards generally won’t fit the best environmental solution for a vessel unless the customer presses them, they’ll fit the one that delivers the greatest margin. And who can blame them?

”So, the industry requires clear, strategic and impactful assistance to meet its lofty goals. It needs governments and regulators to step in and deliver the policy and instruments that will facilitate the green shift now, because this is a matter that will not wait. What those measures should be are open to debate.

”Taxes on vessels with poor environmental performance would encourage the uptake of better solutions, while the income from those taxes could be used to support the development and installation of new technology. Stricter regulations would require compliance, but perhaps the financial burden could be shifted to governments, in the same way as they are providing aid right now, with green grants, or access to funding that is reliant on meeting stringent environmental criteria.

”Research into green synthetic fuels, a vaccine against pollution, could be fast-tracked and centrally supported, while technology that is already available and proven today, such as batteries and hybrid systems, could be encouraged for immediate efficiency and emissions gains on today’s world fleet. New builds with future-proof technology, capable of utilising any fuel source, such as The Switch DC-Hub, could be incentivised for owners, ensuring that they have the capability to meet all future regulations and fuel mixes, for long-term compliance and efficient sailing.

”The biggest challenges require the greatest responses, and there is no bigger threat than climate change. It’s time for those in power to respond. The world demands it.”

Now obviously Halsebakke has a vested interest in this scenario, but then again which of us doesn’t? As he says the effects of global warming are not the obvious sight of gowned hospital workers, mass graves and hand wringing politicians so it’s harder to imagine the direct individual consequences for each and every one of us compared with the virus.

However who can now doubt the twin truths of this, both that the environment needs rapid attention and improvement, anyone in a first world country will have noted the immediate change in air quality as traffic diminished and industrial sites closed, and the fact that, with a collective mind set, this could be achieved.