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Sustainable shipping leads the debate for the Lloyd’s List Outlook 2020 webinar

Strong trends have become evident throughout 2019; these set the tone for maritime in 2020. They include sustainability, future fuels, digital solutions, and geopolitical tension

NO serious economist thinks he can forecast the future. The fact that many economists believe they can, says more about those economists than about the future.

And the fact that much of the media pores over economists’ forecasts of the future, says more about the media than about either the economists or their forecasts. Forecasting the future is not news, indeed the more ‘accurate’ the forecast, the more likely it is to be foolish.

Shipping stands at the threshold of another year. But rather than trying to guess what might happen in 2020, it would be helpful to circle round to identify the stronger trends that have been carrying the industry forwards over 2018 and 2019. If we are to offer a meaningful outlook on the year to come, it’s important to understand the present.

Looking back to the 122nd session of the International Maritime Organization’s Council in July this year, council members selected “Sustainable shipping for a sustainable planet” as the World Maritime theme for 2020.

‘Sustainability’ has taken its place alongside ‘smart’ and ‘digital’ in the industry’s lexicon, and will no doubt become the driver of shipping’s innovation next year and for the next decade or two. The generic nature of ‘sustainability’ is its weakness: it can be whatever we want it to be. However, what gives this issue gravitas is the momentum that has built up over 2018 and 2019 around the urgency to reduce the rise in global temperatures.

If the main problem is burning coal, oil, and gas, shipping has only just begun to react. Energy shipping makes up almost half the maritime payload, while liquefied natural gas — the most generally-accepted bridging fuel between heavy fuel oil and hydrogen — is itself a fossil fuel.

We must expect this search for a non-fossil fuel future to flow over into 2020. Many millions of techno-dollars will be invested in ways to develop new energy sources, and much of that will be spent in 2020.

The logistics supply chain (including shipping) can and should be cleaner and greener and the need is now urgent. Many options are already being explored, and we should hope for obstacles to be removed.

One of the most obvious ways forward is closer liaison between maritime, ports, and inland transport: the three pillars of the distribution hub. Ports would be more efficient if the ties were stronger; investment in infrastructure in and around these hubs would benefit the entire logistics chain. The blockage here is commercial reality: getting goods from manufacturer to consumer as efficiently as possible goes against some commercial interests.

It is that overarching geopolitical, environmental, social, and commercial world that has acted — and will continue to act — against shipping’s push for efficiency, and therefore sustainability. While the headlines in 2019 have been made by trade conflict and extreme weather events, the past two years have also experienced social upheaval.

Governments have struggled to contain street protests and the retail sector is undergoing profound change. Shipping has so far been regarded as one of the problems, yet there has been impetus to turn this round and make shipping a solution.

2020 - a year of challenge and change webinar sponsored by Wallem

Understanding the trends that flow through the industry of the present must be the starting point for offering an outlook for the year ahead. With the help of some very well-connected guest speakers, Lloyd’s List tackles “2020: a year of challenge and change” as the next in its annual series of Outlook webinars. This year’s webinar has been sponsored by Wallem Group in Hong Kong, and the shipmanager’s chief executive, Frank Coles, brings many years’ expertise in maritime technology and more recently in ship management to this discussion. 

He will be joined by Anne Steffensen, director general and chief executive of Danish Shipping, the shipowners’ organisation in Copenhagen. A civil servant, Anne’s career has embraced trade, investment, and trade policy. Before joining Danish Shipping, she had served as Denmark’s Ambassador to the Court of St James’s in London.

Tiejha Smyth is deputy director (FD&D) with North P&I Club in Newcastle, UK. After several years specialising in commercial litigation and dealing with High Court proceedings, Tiejha has spent more than 10 years dealing with freight, demurrage & defence claims, serves as a member of the BIMCO 2020 drafting committee, and advises on 2020 issues at North P&I Club and Intertanko.

Finally, Michelle Wiese Bockmann has spent 20 years writing about shipping markets, as markets editor for both Fairplay and Lloyd’s List, before moving on to become a shipping and energy analyst at Bloomberg, OPIS, ClipperData. She is now back in the fold at Lloyd’s List.

What will 2020 look like? Certainly geopolitical tension will again be high up the agenda, shipping is likely to invest in more technology, maritime will probably become a partner in an integrated shipping/port ecosystem. And there might be some consequences from the global sulphur cap. To hear more, listen to the Lloyd’s List webinar on 2020, sponsored by Wallem Group, on Thursday December 5.

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