Paving the way for a decarbonized shipping industry that leaves no one behind

By Martha Selwyn, United Nations Global Compact | November 9, 2022

Responsible for transporting 90% of global trade and supplying the world with food, fuel, medicines and goods, the global shipping industry accounts for 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. After a long history of wind, coal and oil-fuelled ships, a fourth propulsion revolution is now underway for shipping to shift away from conventional fuels and transition towards alternative low- and zero-carbon fuels and technologies. This will- support the global community in reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The Maritime Just Transition Task Force was formed to ensure that shipping’s response to the climate emergency puts seafarers and communities at the heart of the solution. The shipping industry has an opportunity to shift to a decarbonized future in a way that creates decent work and leaves no one behind. Governments, employers and seafarers’ unions all have a role to play in shipping’s Just Transition through strengthened social dialogue aligned with the International Labour Organization’s Just Transition guidelines Just Transition guidelines from the International Labour Organization.

The Task Force commissioned leading maritime consultancy DNV to model three decarbonization scenarios. The new research provides insights into seafarer training and skills needed to support a decarbonized shipping industry – with some estimates indicating as many as 800,000 seafarers will need some form of training by the mid-2030s in order to safely handle the fuels, technologies or ships of the future.

Martha Selwyn, from UN Global Compact, explains what’s at stake and what the shift requires.

How do you define a just transition with respect to the maritime industry?

A Just Transition means greening the economy in a way that is as fair and inclusive as possible to everyone concerned, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind. The principles for a Just Transition are established by the globally-recognized guidelines developed by the International Labour Organization and are just as relevant in the context of the global shipping industry as it strives to reach the Paris Agreement 1.5 c temperature goal.

In line with the ILO guidelines, shipping’s green transition should also create quality jobs while safeguarding existing globally established decent work standards under the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, as amended.

In line with the ILO Just Transition guidelines, a just transition in the maritime industry should be based on social dialogue and ongoing and robust stakeholder engagement.

Stakeholders expected to be impacted by shipping’s transition include maritime employers and employees, national governments, communities, suppliers and consumers.

It should be noted that delivering a just transition in global shipping goes beyond supporting the maritime workforce. Factors such as how the transition is paid for, who and which countries and geographies benefit and how local and coastal communities and supply chains are considered are equally important.

How does the industry reconcile the need for a just transition with sufficient momentum to decarbonise? 

As many as 800,000 seafarers will require additional training to handle alternative fuels by the mid-2030s if shipping is to meet the world’s target of keeping global warming to 1.5C or less by 2050.

Seafarers will need to be equipped with adequate skills, education, and training to operate new technology systems on board more technologically advanced ships, and to handle new fuels which could represent a significant health and safety risk to seafarers, ships, communities and the environment. A health-and-safety first approach is subsequently fundamental to securing a Just Transition. To keep momentum with the pace of decarbonization, guidelines and safety standards for new fuels can already be developed in the 2020s, and this can be reflected in occupational health and safety provisions under the Maritime Labour Convention.

It is also important to underline that securing a just transition will accelerate decarbonization rather than hinder momentum. Skills gaps and shortages are increasingly posing a challenge to the green transition. It takes three years to build a zero emission vessel, but 10 years in total to train a seafarer to become a global maritime professional. If upskilling and retraining does not occur in a timely manner, the global shipping industry will not have a trained crew to power its decarbonization, which will ultimately hinder progress. Maritime decarbonization plans, such as National Action Plans (NAPs) to address GHG emissions from ships, can already factor in investments towards the necessary skills development for shipping’s transition, including for the use of alternative fuels.

A Just Transition can be realized through strengthening global training standards at pace to ensure a level playing field for all seafarers. This is a truly unique aspect of global shipping industry which has a global standard-setter – the International Maritime Organization, which sets training standards through its STCW Convention, which is currently being reviewed to reflect skills needed for the green transition.

To keep up with momentum to decarbonize, the IMO can accelerate its development of alternative fuel guidelines, which could form the basis of new training standards and model courses relevant to ships using alternative fuels, for example hydrogen, ammonia. These can then be delivered by maritime universities and other training providers.

Monitoring and anticipating skills needs will also be a critical component. The Task Force is suggesting to establish skills councils to fulfil this function. This will help to ensure that the workforce and training institutions can be advised on the quantity of training needed overall and in particular locations. This will help plug national and regional skills gap and support the overall decarbonization of the industry by ensuring a competent workforce and avoiding any delays to the implementation of clean technologies.

Attrition and recruitment is also an acute challenge in the maritime industry. The green economy presents new opportunities to attract new workers into the industry and develop new skillsets. Some emerging green industries are already leveraging the green transition in their recruitment strategies. This needs to be grasped to ensure the industry has a competent workforce in place to support its decarbonization.

What does reskilling and upskilling actually entail for the industry – and how quickly can workers be transitioned in a way that is equitable and resilient?

Meeting decarbonization goals coupled with fastmoving technological developments, including increased automation reflects a general trend towards a ‘higher-skilled’ seafarer. Increased IT, digital, technical, STEM, and organizational competence will be needed in future education to meet decarbonization demands, and this will need to be reflected in seafarer education.

E.g. understanding fuel specific chemistry and physics; handling more digitalized and manual systems on bridge, deck and engine.

The aforementioned global training standard – the STCW Convention – provides an opportunity for the entire global workforce to transition as new training courses on alternative fuels become increasingly available.

The Convention will be reviewed in the coming years and it is critical that it pays close attention to the relevant skills required at present, as well as those that will be required for seafarers in 2050. Obsolete competencies should be updated or removed in order to mitigate and manage the training burden on seafarers, and new competencies to reflect skills needed for decarbonization should be included.

This will then form the basis of training for seafarers moving forward. While the Convention is being reviewed, so in the 2020s, the industry can already invest in the reskilling or upskilling of staff according to their roles, providing short-term training programs to fill immediate skills gaps.

Ensuring seafarers have additional time to familiarize themselves with new fuels in addition to training requirements will also be a critical factor moving forward to ensure the safety of the crew and the ship.

As seafarers’ future education will increasingly rely on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) skill sets, it is also important for governments to already begin strengthening and investing in national education systems to support the future generation of seafarers, ensuring they are equipped for the green jobs of the future.

What is the Just Transition Maritime Task Force and what’s happened since it was launched at COP26?

The Maritime Just Transition Task Force was established during COP26 in November 2021, by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the United Nations Global Compact, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). It was formed to ensure that shipping’s response to the climate emergency puts seafarers and communities at the heart of the solution.

It represents an unprecedented international collaboration. It marks the first sector coming together in a tripartite framework – convening unions, industry, and the relevant UN Bodies –  to collectively discuss how to secure a Just Transition for an industry.

Since COP26 the Task Force Secretariat – ICS, ITF and UNGC – commissioned maritime consultancy DNV to model three emission reduction scenarios to estimate the number of seafarers requiring additional training to handle alternative fuels up to 2050. This report was launched at COP27.

In response to the training challenge that the DNV modelling lays bare, the Task Force Secretariat will also launch a 10-Point Action Plan. Mapping A Maritime Just Transition for Seafarers sets out concrete recommendations for industry, governments and seafarer unions to unlock the skills needed to support shipping’s decarbonisation goals, including:

What are the roadblocks for a faster just transition?

The main roadblock is a lack of clarity about viability and uptake of alternative fuel options, as well as uncertainty surrounding regulatory developments and financing, is making it difficult to plan effectively for the transition of the maritime workforce and to attract investment towards new skills programs, compatible with the industry’s future needs and decarbonized future.

Additional roadblocks concern current training constraints in the maritime industry, including a lack of competent trainers, a lack of seafarers, and a lack of investment in training centres and equipment.

What’s happening in this respect at COP27 and what do you expect to see happen in the 12 months beyond that? 

The Task Force will launch the aforementioned action plan and DNV report at the COP 27 to raise awareness for the imperative of a Just Transition for the Maritime Workforce.

After COP27, there are several critical milestones in the maritime calendar, including the MEPC 80 where the Initial IMO GHG strategy is due to be revised. During this process, particular attention should be given to aligning more explicitly the levels of ambition of the Revised IMO GHG Strategy with the 1.5 C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. This can help to provide market certainty and in turn stimulate the training investments needed for the maritime workforce, and kickstart the training transition and many of the aspects described above to secure a Just Transition.

The Revised Strategy could also consider reflecting Just Transition principles and measures aligned with the ILO Just Transition guidelines (2015).




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