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05 Jan Dieleman, Cargill

Promises are not progress and waiting does not work — the shipping charterer's progressive agenda-setter has been pushing for action in 2022

As chair of the Global Maritime Forum, Mr Dieleman has pursued a pacy programme of sustainability and progressive reform, even as economic headwinds may have given others pause for thought 

THE term ‘agenda setting’ is an abused and frequently overstated claim in shipping. However, there is one name that crops up with reliable frequency at the heart of most substantive industry efforts chivvying positive change.

Jan Dieleman would likely earn a place somewhere on this list simply by virtue of Cargill’s operational scale as a shipping charterer (more than 700 ships on charter and around 230m tonnes of cargo this year).

Yet it is his role as the industry’s progressive agenda-setter-in-chief that has secured Mr Dieleman a top-five slot in 2022’s rankings.

Having taken over as chair of the Global Maritime Forum in April, he has pursued a pacy programme of sustainability and progressive reform, even as economic headwinds may have given others pause for thought.

“The current environment is not business as usual; we have to be realistic about that, but the direction and speed of change in the industry is clear and we are ahead of where I would have told you we could be even a year ago,” said Mr Dieleman, reflecting on the progress achieved in 2022.

He is lending Cargill’s commercial heft, as well as his own ubiquitous support, to industry game-changing programmes such as the Sea Cargo Charter, the Getting to Zero Coalition and the Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping, the All Aboard Alliance and the Neptune Declaration.

Mr Dieleman has also positioned Cargill as active shareholders in the influential efficiency tech firm ZeroNorth and RightShip, where his position as chairman has helped drive the safety, sustainability and social responsibility agenda.

However, this is also no mere cheerleading award. As Mr Dieleman points out, “waiting doesn’t work” — so Cargill has decided to stop debating the ‘chicken and egg’ scenarios regarding future fuel availability and start ordering.

A series of between four to six kamsarmax methanol-fuelled bulkers — the first of their kind — are expected to be unveiled imminently, positioning Cargill alongside Maersk in the methanol first-movers club, despite sky-high yard prices

“We still don’t know a lot of what will happen, but we asked ourselves: 'Do we think there will be people prepared to pay a green premium to make this happen? And do we think there will be fuels available over time?',” said Mr Dieleman.

“And, of course, the answer is: 'Yes, so let’s not hold back, let’s do something' — and that’s been a quite liberating process for us.”

The fact that Cargill is stating that it will have zero-carbon fuel-capable ships on the water by 2025 marks an acceleration of statements Mr Dieleman was making only two years ago.

And the fact that Cargill’s announcement that it had moved past the design phase with Japanese yards sparked a significant flurry of interest from other owners now looking to replicate the move, is already a marker of its success as a sector-wide kick-starter campaign.

Other trials, including a ramping up of biofuels and a kamsarmax with wind sails due to start sailing in 2023, are being monitored — but results are what matters and Mr Dieleman has pulled Cargill out of programmmes that do not come with the requisite amounts of action.

“We need to stop thinking that making promises is progress,” he says, referring to greenwashed pledges that come with little detail and targets set well beyond the retirement date of those signing up.

“At this at this stage, it's all about action; we need to start doing some things here. It’s about real action, taking full responsibility and putting some skin in the game,” he explains.

Mr Dieleman’s view of influence in shipping is that the pace of change is not up for debate by shipowners; it is being driven by society and the end-users.

In the absence of current maritime structures paying heed to such things, he aims to represent that voice and is happy to take advantage of the influence Cargill has in the market.

“We are in a privileged position to have that influence and it’s not something we take lightly, but we want to get something going here — and if nobody else is going to do it, then I’m happy to get out there and ruffle a few feathers if that’s what it takes.”

While such statements tend to earn Mr Dieleman a round of applause within the rarefied atmosphere of the GMF meetings, being among the first-movers is not the same as taking the rest of the very conservative and often recalcitrant industry along for the ride.

So, the fact that 2023’s GMF meeting will be held in Greece, where there is still some way to go in convincing shipping’s traditionalists to embrace the sustainability agenda in practice as well as words, is no coincidence.

Accepting a sustainability award in Greece earlier in 2022, Mr Dieleman pointed out how far things had come and why he is confident that the next five years will see accelerated change, not just from the first-movers.

“Five years ago, I talked to people who said Paris [the UN climate accord] isn’t for shipping, it’s not going to happen, leave this alone, we’re 90% of trade, we do it efficiently, so we don’t need to do our part — that has completely changed now,” he said.

Mr Dieleman also appeared in the Top 100 in 20162017201820192020 and 2021.

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