Can the UK Transport Industries Reach Carbon Neutrality?

From the G7 earlier this month to COP26 in November, 2021 is a bumper political calendar year for the UK. The common thread linking the two is, of course, how global leaders can tackle the climate crisis before it is too late. This has begun with the first net zero G7, in which all nations involved have made commitments to significant carbon reduction targets in the 2020s with the eventual goal of reaching zero carbon emissions by 2050.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Protecting our planet is the most important thing we as leaders can do for our people. There is a direct relationship between reducing emissions, restoring nature, creating jobs and ensuring long-term economic growth. As democratic nations we have a responsibility to help developing countries reap the benefits of clean growth through a fair and transparent system. The G7 has an unprecedented opportunity to drive a global Green Industrial Revolution, with the potential to transform the way we live.”

Practically, this began with the first net zero G7, in which all nations involved have made commitments to significant carbon reduction targets in the 2020s, with the eventual goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Beyond this the G7 released a range of commitments to being cleaner and greener in in their own nations, and through supporting global infrastructure and development - including through increasing funding contributions in order to meet the promised $1bn per annum to support developing nations with accessing the infrastructure and technology needed to cut emissions and combat the climate crisis.

However, these vital commitments must be accompanied by committed actions and engagements with stakeholders in each nation, and indeed in the many industries under the spotlight for their role in generating carbon emissions. Consider the transport and shipping industries. Spanning vehicles, aviation, and shipping, and touching lives personally and professionally, they are a vital means of connection and mobility across the world but are also under increasing scrutiny for their role in producing greenhouse emissions. How can they reach net neutrality?

While there is no easy answer, a sensible starting point comes from the meeting of the M7. This new group is comprised of leaders from maritime bodies in the G7 nations met with fellow maritime leaders from Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea, and representatives from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), BIMCO, and the European Community Shipowners' Associations (ECSA). A press release issued by the UK Chamber of Shipping (the host organisation) about the meeting states: "There was universal agreement that more investment is needed from governments and industry to develop the technologies for a cleaner and greener shipping industry and that the G7 governments should be urged to back the shipping industry’s proposed $5bn R&D decarbonisation fund."

Fundraising actions such as an added charge of $2 per tonne of maritime fuel purchased have been proposed by the ICS, but the core message is clear: the shipping and transport industries cannot, with current levels of resource, make sufficient changes to achieve decarbonisation. To achieve this, Guy Platten, Secretary general for the ICS, stressed the need for investment “in technologies that are safe and sustainable and without negative side effects for other parts of the environment.” He also emphasised that stronger, more unified leadership is needed in order to generate tangible change: “If we can’t get political consensus now on the urgent need for R&D. how are we going to reach the much-needed political consensus for a sustainable and equitable carbon price signal that will incentivise the market to decarbonise at the speed and scale needed.”

This becomes an issue for political leaders because of the wide-reaching nature of transport and shipping. It is not merely a business issue - although readers will be aware of the significant struggles faced by manufacturing and other businesses due to the impact of Covid-19 on global supply chains. The social and economic impacts of the shipping industry extend their reach beyond business and into the everyday lives of people across the UK.

A recent report from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) UK reveals that rural communities and their reliance on transport and shipping have received little consideration in UK government plans for net zero emissions. The report observes: "[T]he journey to zero will be difficult without considered communication and engagement with rural communities and businesses from government. If policies do not address the unique challenges of decarbonisation in the rural environment, there is a risk that people and business will suffer further social and economic disadvantage.”

The UK government - and indeed, other leaders of the G7 - will continue to face scrutiny for making broad-brush funding and action commitments as long as they fail to engage in sufficiently detailed and considered action on behalf of the people of their own nations. Whilst global unity and leadership is important and can move the needle on vital issues, it must be accompanied by clear and measurable policy promises that can and will be delivered. Put simply, in the words of the Financial Times editorial team, "G7 leaders need to lift their game" in order to be taken seriously in an age of increased scepticism regarding political leaders.

This article is from our June J7 Bulletin – read the full issue here.