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Sustainable shipping for a sustainable planet

  • September 25, 2020

The “World Maritime Day” is being observed this year on September 24, 2020 with the theme of Sustainable Shipping for Sustainable Planet as declared by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as a yearly practice to enhance understanding about the maritime issues and challenges. It was first commemorated in March 1978 to mark the promulgation of the IMO Convention during the year 1958. The observance of the World Maritime Day can be varied from country to country in terms of date, but essentially it is celebrated in the last week of September. The significance of the seas and oceans is undeniable as these water bodies are at the core of longevity, connectivity, and communication among the nations due to the greater reliance of the human race on the blue waters. The majority of the world population is dependent upon the seas directly or indirectly through the global flows in the form of food and sea-borne trade of energy, technology, information, foreign exchange, language and culture, migrations, and even illegal economic activities. It depicts enhanced importance of the seas and oceans for existence of the mankind which has significantly increased the number of vessels sailing on the surface of the oceans resulting into amplified environmental hazards and threats.

The increased throughput of global maritime trade has facilitated the humanity on one hand, and on the other hand, the modernization of transportation technology especially containerized shipping and bigger networks of international ship liners has taken its toll on the marine environment as the maritime safety issues like oil spillage, use of dangerous chemicals like asbestos, leakage of lubricants, and emissions of hazardous gases have aggravated. One of the main environmental degradation factors in the maritime domain is exhaust emissions from a marine fuel engine which has carbon dioxide and water vapors mixed with carbon monoxides, and sulphur and nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and other particles making the marine environment polluted. Since long, ship emissions were not considered of much importance in terms of impacts on environment. Therefore the process of regulating ship emissions was introduced by the IMO and European Union in the initial years of the new millennium. Since then further regulations have been introduced in the shipping industry. A major focus of these regulations has been on emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2), but lately carbon dioxide (CO2) has also been added to the harmful substances and strategies are being devised to mitigate its impact too.

According to the MOL-Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, there can be two types of basic impacts of shipping- atmospheric and oceanic, in which atmospheric impact holds emissions of CO2 causing global warming, and NOx/SOx causing atmospheric pollution; whereas oceanic impact holds oil pollution and/or on-board waste causing ocean pollution, and ballast water and/or organisms on vessels causing damages to biodiversity. There can be certain measures to counter these impacts at different levels through different strategies like fuel consumption reduction and technology development, proper treatments of the ship-related wastes.

The core purpose of introducing such regulatory measures is to keep marine environment safe from damaging impact of increased shipping and other maritime economic activities. The concept of the Blue Economy considers sustainability of the 3 Es-economy, environment, and ecology. It talks about exploring and exploiting economic resources without harming the maritime environment and marine ecology. As per definition by the World Bank, Blue Economy denotes the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.” While Pakistan has already declared the year 2020 as the “Year of Blue Economy” and has revised its merchant marine policy to make it more compatible for the shipping industry, this is the right time to focus on the betterment of the marine environment and not to damage oceanic ecological balance. Coincidently, the year 2020’s theme of the World Maritime Day has accordance to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) numbers 14 “Life below Water” and 17 “Partnerships” set by the UN. In this regard, the IMO has declared clear objectives “to cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the sulphur content of ships’ fuel oil, implement the Ballast Water Management Convention, protect the polar regions, reduce marine litter, improve the efficiency of shipping through the electronic exchange of information, meet the challenges of the digitalization of shipping and enhance the participation of women in the maritime community.”

That is quite heartening that the global shipping industry is already in transition toward adoption of safer strategies of shipping and staying integral with the SDGs for sustainable planet earth. That is quite important to encourage the sustainability of marine environment and well-intact ecology of the oceans through continuous research and development within related departments and organizations, and different regulatory arrangements and instruments due to it bearing the intrinsic impact of the multiplied volumes of cruise and liner shipping and other activities done by the floating vessels. There are many active arrangements like Clean Shipping Index (CSI), Clean Cargo Working Group (CCWG) established by the global non-profit organization “Business for Social Responsibility (BSR),” and CDP, a United Kingdom-based non-governmental organization representing 827 global institutional investors, which are playing significant role in supporting the cause and objectives of the IMO. Nevertheless this is an appropriate time to emphasize upon the development, improvement, and implementation of the environmental and ecological policies regarding the seas and oceans for the member states in general, and particularly Pakistan along with other developing littoral nations which have opted for the Blue Economy and shipping sector. The attention toward safe and sustainable shipping industry paid at this time will reap long-range benefits in the form of sustainable maritime environment and intact oceanic ecology for the sustainable planet Earth by and large.

The writer is working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad, Pakistan. Her areas of expertise are maritime affairs and all Blue dimensions including Blue Economy. She can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]

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