Why policy coherence is critical to shipping’s green transition

By Sturla Henriksen, Special Advisor, Ocean, UN Global Compact; Guy Platten, Secretary General, International Chamber of Shipping; Stephen Cotton, General Secretary, International Transport Workers’ Federation; Margi Van Gogh, Head of Supply Chain & Transport, World Economic Forum; Tim Slingsby, Director of Skills and Education at Lloyd's Register Foundation and Chair of Maritime Charities Group, Lloyd’s Register Foundation  | February 8, 2023
  • Moving towards a low-emission economy will create millions of ‘green jobs’
  • Global shipping’s green transition could create new jobs and provide new skills to hundreds of thousands of seafarers
  • Coordinated global policy-making will be key to match supply and demand for skills and for countries to capitalize on green job opportunities in maritime

Moving towards a low-emission global economy will create tens of millions of new, ‘green jobs’. The renewable energy industry alone is projected to generate 38.2 million jobs by 2030. The effects of the green transition on employment are also requiring workforces across multiple sectors to reskill and upskill. This, coupled with new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and digitalization,  is leading to increasing calls for investment in skills to ensure a thriving future workforce in 2030 and beyond.

Shipping’s green transition is no different. Currently accounting for 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, shipping’s decarbonization is expected to bring with it green job creation opportunities across new value chains, with 87% of the infrastructure projected to be land-based. According to the Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance, green hydrogen production – a fuel touted for zero emission shipping – could create 2 million to 4 million green jobs by 2050 in member countries.

There is also a significant need for skills development for green shipping. A seafarer currently trained on marine oil will have to incur additional training as the industry transitions to future alternative fuel technologies, such as hydrogen, ammonia, and batteries. Meeting decarbonization goals, coupled with fast-moving technological developments and ever increasing SMART ship technologies, reflects a general trend towards a ‘higher-skilled’ seafarer, requiring increased digital, STEM, safety and organizational skills to meet zero emission demands.

Speed of decarbonization will impact training timelines

The speed and scale of upskilling the global maritime workforce is linked to the speed of its decarbonization. Within the spirit and framework of the Paris Agreement, there is still much to be decided in terms of global shipping’s low-carbon trajectory – but time is running out.

Governments from the world over are set to meet once again this July at the United Nations’ shipping arm – the International Maritime Organization (IMO). They’ll debate and adopt a revised ‘GHG Strategy’ – a document that likely commits the world to a more ambitious target for cutting shipping’s carbon and other climate change-producing emissions. Industry organizations and many Member States are calling for total zero emissions by 2050 with strengthened 2030 and 2040 targets to align to the 1.5 C of the Paris Agreement, reinforced in Sharm-el-Sheikh at COP 27.

According to analysis commissioned by the Maritime Just Transition Task Force, this would represent a difference of training between 800,000 seafarers by the mid 2030s in comparison to 350,000 seafarers by the end of the 2050s. This makes a stark difference in terms of training and skills development timelines.

Global policy coherence at the IMO 

The availability of skilled labor and the right education will be a condition for shipping’s green transformation. However, in general, coherence between skills and environmental policies remains weak and fragmented in many countries. This poor cross-governmental coordination is hampering the effectiveness of governments being able to successfully plan their green skills formation, let alone deliver on them. While responsibilities for climate change policies often rest solely with the environmental ministry, ensuring a successful and just transition to a green economy which leaves no one behind must involve multiple governmental departments from labor and education to energy and trade. Poor cross-governmental coordination can pose a bottleneck to the green transition, hamper the effective planning of skills development, and ultimately put workers’ safety at risk.

Luckily for shipping, its global training standard – the STCW Convention – is due for a comprehensive update. In a less well-known IMO committee – namely the Sub-Committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW) –  national government delegates will be meeting this week in London to begin discussing what the review of the Convention should entail, and which skills will be required for shipping’s green transition and the wider trends impacting the industry.

This represents a real opportunity for shipping to demonstrate a coherent policy approach between skills and environmental policies, and for national governments to ensure their workforces can capitalize on green job opportunities in the maritime industry and avoid their people and industries missing out.

If environmental policy-makers agree on a more ambitious decarbonization trajectory this coming July at the Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting (MEPC 80), then national governments at the IMO should react by fast-tracking the development of training standards for alternative fuels to ensure the training infrastructure is in place to safely train a sufficient number of seafarers by the 2030s.

National-level action 

National governments can also ensure better coordination between their own departments, ministries, agencies and authorities that are responsible for the policy levers that need to be engaged to prepare populations and infrastructure for shipping’s low-carbon future.

Here collaboration with industry, unions and training institutions will be critical. As advocated by the Maritime Just Transition Task Force, tripartite skills councils which effectively monitor and anticipate skills will be increasingly essential to match supply and demand. With the majority of the nearly 2 million global seafarer workforce coming from the global South, crew- supply countries may need particular support during the transition, including the establishment of national skills bodies.

In the Philippines – whose seafarers make up 14% of the global seafarer workforce – the government is already taking action to secure their nation’s place as a maritime leader of tomorrow through engaging with the Maritime Just Transition Task Force and a newly established tripartite ‘International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs’, which will contribute to the global competitiveness of Filipino seafarers and prepare them for decarbonization. This includes advising the government on training for green shipping. Indonesia is another major seafaring nation who is showing leadership, by collaborating with already-established skills councils, to participate in knowledge-sharing on maritime education.

Global shipping is already leading the way when it comes to ensuring a Just Transition for seafarers by establishing the first ever task force dedicated to supporting a workforce prepare for decarbonization. Governments demonstrating a joined-up, coordinated approach to skills development and climate change policy this week can be its next step.


Sturla Henriksen, Special Advisor, Ocean, UN Global Compact

Guy Platten, Secretary General, International Chamber of Shipping

Stephen Cotton, General Secretary, International Transport Workers’ Federation

Margi Van Gogh, Head of Supply Chain & Transport, World Economic Forum

Tim Slingsby, Director of Skills and Education at Lloyd’s Register Foundation and Chair of Maritime Charities Group

About the Maritime Just Transition Task Force 

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). The Task Force aims to support a just and human-centred decarbonization of the shipping industry. The Task Force is grateful to its primary funder, Lloyd’s Register Foundation, and to its programme partner, the Singapore Maritime Foundation. More information on the Maritime Just Transition Task Force can be found on the UN Global Compact website, the International Chamber of shipping website and the International Transport Workers’ Federation website.

This article was originally published by the World Economic Forum.