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Shipping, we have a new stakeholder: the ocean

Matthieu de Tugny, president of Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore, has a new book out this week. Today he writes for Splash, arguing shipping’s relationship with the ocean must change. Rather than a passive enabler for maritime transport, the sea is now a stakeholder in its own right, to be protected for future generations.

One of the most fundamental transformations that shipping faces today does not come from some ground-breaking technology, but rather from a change in mindsets, both within and outside the industry. With the impact of climate change being felt through extreme weather events around the world, there is a growing awareness that life on Earth depends on the ocean, and on the crucial role it plays in regulating our climate. The sea is now a stakeholder in itself, to be actively respected and preserved – and we must stand up for it.

In my view, this changes the equation for those of us who care about our oceans. We must do better than just minimising our impact. We must shape a better maritime world that leaves our oceans in a better state than we found them.

Society’s demands for sustainability are already rewriting the playbook for maritime transport. As an increasingly visible component of global supply chains, shipping faces greater scrutiny from its customers as well as regulators on its environmental performance. In tangible terms, this means that companies will have to demonstrate their environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials to secure contracts and investments – and they may be at very different stages and moving at different speeds on their decarbonisation journeys. But it is undeniable that the journey has started.

A more complex playing field

Shipowners have vital decisions to make today that will impact their assets and financial viability for decades, without yet having a clear picture of where the industry is heading.

We know we are moving away from a world in which nearly all ships use fossil fuels, to a varied ecosystem in which several fuel options are likely to coexist – including biofuels, LNG, and eventually ammonia and hydrogen. New technologies are emerging to increase efficiency and reduce emissions, from digital voyage optimisation tools to wind propulsion systems, and the safety and efficiency of these must be independently validated, for every ship.

Above all, we need pioneers, and to succeed, these pioneers need support in the form of independent advice and validation. This is where classification societies can assist. As the maritime sector goes through this transformation, the scope of our work has expanded. This requires a profound shift in our thinking: now it is our role not just to protect life at sea, ships and assets, or help prevent pollution, but we must more actively preserve and protect our blue planet for future generations.

A broader role for class

Throughout its history, class has always evolved, using its expertise and independent position to support progress. This was true for the invention of the container in the 1950s, and more recently with the integration of LNG as fuel or wind propulsion systems, for example.

By de-risking new solutions, class builds trust between shipyards, shipowners and tech providers, thereby supporting the safe innovation that will be necessary to decarbonise shipping. Now it is essential that we build on our experience to support further innovations, including on zero-carbon fuels.

There is also an opportunity to broaden the scope of classification to add a much-needed social dimension, most notably around crew safety and welfare standards. Demands imposed on shipping by its downstream customers increasingly include social justice, and class societies are in a unique position to help their clients deliver on their ESG commitments. This will help ensure that the transition is sustainable for the oceans, but also fair for those who live and work on them.

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