THE International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has warned that without decisive government signals declining levels of maritime research and development could jeopardise industry’s ability to decarbonise.

The International Chamber of Shipping represents around 80% of the world’s merchant tonnage, through membership by national shipowners’ associations.

According to the International Energy Agency, maritime’s research and development spending between 2007-2019 remained stagnant, lagging far behind that of other sectors. Responding to strong political signalling from governments around the world investment on research and development in the automotive sector has increased from US$67bn in 2009 to a staggering US$130bn in 2019, compared to US$1.6bn in maritime.

Data from the IEA confirms the total amount of corporate research and development investment for maritime actually decreased, from US$2.7bn in 2017 to US$1.6bn in 2019.

Ahead of a key meeting of International Maritime Organization member states in London, the ICS highlighted that growing uncertainty is leading to a reduction in confidence about research and development investment.

“The lack of clarity, in part due to the increasing levels of political risk and resulting investment risk, is leading to limited research and development investment for green fuels for ships, and the accompanying technologies they need to be safely used,” said the ICS.

“There is also growing concern about the safety and toxic emissions associated with the use of some proposed alternative fuels.

“Without government support for rapid research and development, this will add unacceptable levels of risk to investments made in shipping by both the public and private sector.”

The ICS welcomed recent announcements of plans to increase innovation for zero emission pilot projects.

“However, all too often these announcements do not come with cash or a realistic investment strategy,” said Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS.

“This sends conflicting messages to the market and as a result investment in shipping is becoming riskier with each passing day. We need governments to match their words on decarbonisation with tangible action. Investment in research and development relies on certainty of the availability of long-term patient capital,” he said.

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As technology development is traditionally uncertain and takes time, ICS is co-sponsoring, along with 10 governments and industry partners, a US$5bn research and development fund for shipping – the IMRF, which provides certainty through guaranteed 10-year funding to support the de-risking of investments for advancing technology readiness levels.

Mr Platten said, “While pledges on reducing emissions are welcome, we desperately need action today in our unique internationalised industry.

“There are no silver bullets and while some try to suggest that we already have the technologies, the reality is far from the truth.

“Governments need to look beyond the sales brochures and wishful thinking of others to invest in technologies that are safe and sustainable and without negative side effects for other parts of the environment,” he said.

The ICS along with other shipping bodies have already called on world leaders to bring forward discussions on global market-based measures.

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