IMO-UNEP-Norway Zero and Low Emission Innovation Forum 27-29 September 2021

I have just spent time during the last three days eavesdropping at the above (virtual) event. My research prior to the event had led me to the conclusion that the technology to make significant progress toward zero carbon shipping by 2050 existed, but the political will and the organisational capability probably was not there. In particular I suspected that IMO, which has a tardy record in marshalling its 180+ members to reach unanimous agreement, would not create the required regulatory structure in time for the 2050 zero carbon goal to be achieved.

Sadly I missed the first day

So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that

1: IMO, UNEP and the Norwegian government had collaborated to create an efficient forum programme

2: Research programmes are quite well advanced and in one or two cases zero carbon ships at the ferry size are already operating (e.g in Norway). Many other programmes are making progress. The consensus seems to be that there will be a few zero carbon ships operating by 2030.

3: I was not totally persuaded by the argument that decarbonising the short sea fleet first will provide a template for decarbonising the deepsea fleet.  This is because the short sea fleet has many options for hybrid operation (including fuel cells), whereas the deepsea fleet will probably be dependent on hydrogen derivativee fuels such as ammonia or methanol,

4: The banking session was fascinating, with a clear demonstration that the international multilateral development banks (IMO, WMF) and national development banks were thinking positively and creatively about the problems of spreading risk and avoiding penalising early starters with the new technologies. Prior to this event, I was very pessimistic about how the value chain for the new technologies could be brought into being in a timely, low risk way. It remains a challenge, but it is being addressed.

5: The session on coordinating technologies and information sharing was a bit less clear. Surveys done by  IAPH (International Association of Ports and Harbours) indicated that progress on information sharing between competitors is slower than hoped for because of lack of trust. Difficult to solve. There were some positive examples, especially from Singapore.

6: Overall it was clear that the officers of IMO were (to my surprise) well aware of the issues and had some ideas on how to address them. The problem is likely to come when they have to turn the collective views into regulations. On past form there is a risk the process will get bogged down by the membership. Much depends on the success of the financing models and the willingness to share technologies and guidance.

But, I was disappointed that

7: There was very little participation from the UK, other than Ms. Diane Gilpin, Founder and CEO, Smart Green Shipping Alliance (promoting wind propulsion), who moderated one of the panel sessions. There were over 250 Zoom participants and a large team of keynote speakers. None of the speakers were British.

8: There was a lot of discussion about how LDCs (Lesser Developed Countries) and SIDS (Small Island Developing States) could be supported. It was disappointing that there were no UK government agencies represented (such as Department for International Development).

9: There was much discussion in the technical sessions that involved universities and development organisations. There were no UK universities or development consortia or trade organisations that were participating.

10: The Ports were represented by IAPH but there was no specific UK interest.

So, overall there is little evidence that UK Government will “…. push for swift and ambitious action at the IMO…” as recently stated by a government minister.

Eventially the papers from this forum will be published at

Graham Rabbitts

Sept 2021