Cleaning up our act: taking our responsibility seriously

The UK Chamber is encouraging its members to become signatories to its Environmental Resolution, a roadmap to achieving the highest possible standards in sustainability

The Polar Code

Shipping undoubtedly has an effect on the environment – from burning heavy fuel oil, which emits greenhouse and other noxious gases, to contributing unintentionally to the spread of invasive marine species in ballast water transfers.

Our industry, to its credit, accepts accountability for this, and advances in guidance and technology are helping companies feel more confident that in fact there is something they can do to operate more sustainably. 

Shipping has already been successful in preventing hydrocarbon pollution from vessels. The last 10 years has seen the lowest rate of spills from vessels since the invention of the tanker, even though the total volume of crude oil, petroleum products and gas transported by sea has continued to rise year on year. Until the sinking of the Iranian tanker Sanchi in January this year, there had been no major oil spills from 2007 and those that have occurred have been in small volumes, according to latest data from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF).

Shipping, therefore, already has a track record of coordinating an effective response to a problem in order to prevent incidents recurring in the future. We can build on this success and broaden its scope. There is no good reason for shipping to cause pollution and the time has come to go about ending it. 

The UK Chamber has developed a document that will focus our members’ efforts to minimise and end pollution from vessels, alongside a campaign that will give them guidance on how to effect these changes.

The document is our Environmental Resolution, which sets out a serious of goals through which shipping companies can improve the sustainability of their operations.

We are asking our members to commit to meeting the standards outlined in the Environmental Resolution and use the document to promote themselves and their green ambitions. We want the Resolution to become a hallmark of high-quality, environmentally responsible operation. 

The document itself was written and produced by a Chamber working group of members and approved by our Supervisory Board. The Resolution is split into three main sections: 

• Goal Zero - irresponsible practices that should be eliminated completely; 

• Minimise - areas in which operators should reduce pollution as much as they are able; and 

• Encourage - areas where further research, training and in-house policy should be developed.

We’re aiming for the Environmental Resolution to be synonymous with high standards, while maintaining realistic and achievable targets. For instance, it would be impossible for any shipping company to cease emission of all greenhouse gases (GHG) overnight. However, vessels can minimise the volume of GHGs they emit by adopting new fuel-efficient technologies to reduce the volume of bunkers used – or perhaps by utilising a clean-burning alternative fuel. 

Shipping connects the world by carrying its trade. Unfortunately, however, ocean carriers may be unwittingly facilitating the transport of illicit goods that have a detrimental effect on the environment. Deterring and preventing the illegal transport of animal and plant products – such as ivory – is one of the top priorities of our Environmental Resolution.

In March 2016, the UK Chamber and certain of its member companies became early signatories to United for Wildlife’s Buckingham Palace Declaration, which forms an action plan to strengthen defences against the trafficking of ivory and other illegal wildlife products. The Resolution is one of the tools the UK Chamber is employing in its work to gain support from shipping companies to take the charity’s mission forward.

In this way, the Environmental Resolution strives to empower the transport industry – there is something we can do to end this cruel and hugely damaging trade. 

Where GHG emissions are concerned, the document aims to help shipping companies meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement. 

The shipping industry has been gradually moving towards widespread adoption of alternative marine fuels and the Paris Agreement has only added to the impetus. 

In November, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) said that shipping’s demand for conventional bunker fuel could potentially all but disappear within as little as 25 years because the industry may transition to zero-carbon fuels. The ICS predicts that bunker fuel as we know it today could be replaced ultimately by fuel cells or batteries powered by renewable energy or hydrogen-based technologies.

We hope that our Environmental Resolution sends a clear message that, fundamentally, it is simply not necessary to pollute the environment in order to run a profitable, productive shipping business. There is no need to operate vessels in a way that will damage the world’s flora and fauna or endanger human health. 

The shipping industry recognises this and our work with the Environmental Resolution will provide guidance on how to achieve the very best results in a way that does not restrict commercial operation.

This article was written for and published in the UK Chamber's Journal 2018. Members can download a copy here or email us to request a PDF.

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For more information contact:

David Balston

Director of Policy

020 7417 2819