Energy Transition

Why skills development is vital for shipping’s green transition

bird's eye view of a ship full of containers in the sea in story about decarbonizing the shipping industry

Shipping currently accounts for 3% of global greenhouse emissions. Image: Unsplash/Venti Views

Sturla Henriksen
Special Advisor, Ocean, The United Nations Global Compact
Guy Platten
Secretary-General, International Chamber of Shipping
Stephen Cotton
General Secretary, International Transport Workers’ Federation
Tim Slingsby
Director of Skills and Education, Lloyd's Register Foundation, Chair, Maritime Charities Group
Margi Van Gogh
Head, Supply Chain and Transportation Industry, World Economic Forum Geneva
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The Net Zero Transition

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  • Moving towards a low-emission global economy will require new 'green jobs' and reskilling, and the maritime industry is no different.
  • Global shipping's green transition could create new jobs and skills for hundreds of thousands of seafarers worldwide.
  • Coordinated policy-making will be key to matching supply and demand and for countries to capitalize on green job opportunities.

Moving towards a low-emission global economy will create tens of millions of new ‘green jobs’ across sectors including shipping. The renewable energy industry alone is projected to generate 38.2 million jobs by 2030.

The effects of the green transition on employment are also requiring workforces across multiple sectors to reskill and upskill. This, coupled with new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and digitalization, is leading to increased calls for investment in skills to ensure a thriving future workforce in 2030 and beyond.

Decarbonizing shipping will require new skills

Shipping’s green transition is no different. Currently accounting for 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, shipping’s decarbonization is expected to bring with it green job creation opportunities across new value chains, with 87% of the infrastructure projected to be land-based.

According to the Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance, the production of green hydrogen – a fuel touted for zero emission shipping – could create 2 million to 4 million green jobs by 2050 in member countries.

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There is also a significant need for skills development for green shipping. A seafarer currently trained in marine oil will require additional training as the industry transitions to future alternative fuel technologies, such as hydrogen, ammonia and batteries.

Meeting decarbonization goals, coupled with fast-moving technological developments and ever-increasing smart ship technologies, reflects a general trend towards a ‘higher-skilled’ seafarer and requires increased digital; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); safety and organizational skills to meet net zero emission demands.

Upskilling linked to speed of decarbonization

The speed and scale of upskilling the global maritime workforce is inevitably linked to the speed of its decarbonization. Within the spirit and framework of the Paris Agreement, there is still much to be decided in terms of global shipping’s low-carbon trajectory – but time is running out.

Governments from the world over are set to meet once again at the United Nations’ shipping arm, the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Here they’ll debate and adopt a revised GHG Strategy – a document that likely commits the world to a more ambitious target for cutting shipping’s carbon and other climate change-producing emissions.

Industry organizations and many member states are calling for total zero emissions by 2050 with strengthened 2030 and 2040 targets to align to the 1.5ºC of the Paris Agreement, reinforced at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh.

According to analysis commissioned by the Maritime Just Transition Task Force, this would represent a difference of training between 800,000 seafarers by the mid-2030s, in comparison to 350,000 seafarers by the end of the 2050s. This makes a stark difference in terms of training and skills development timelines.

Global policy coherence required at the IMO

The availability of skilled labour and the right education will be essential to shipping’s green transformation. However, in general, coherence between skills and environmental policies remains weak and fragmented in many countries.

This poor cross-governmental coordination is hampering the effectiveness of governments being able to successfully plan their green skills formation, let alone deliver on them.

While responsibilities for climate change policies often rest solely with a country’s environmental ministry, ensuring a successful and just transition to a green economy which leaves no one behind must involve multiple governmental departments – from labour and education to energy and trade.

Poor cross-governmental coordination can hamper the effective planning of skills development and pose a bottleneck to the green transition.

Luckily for shipping, its global training standard – the STCW Convention – is due for a comprehensive update. In a less well-known IMO committee – namely the Sub-Committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW) – national government delegates will be meeting in London this week to start discussing what the review of the convention should entail, which skills will be required for shipping’s green transition and wider trends impacting the industry.

This represents a real opportunity for shipping to demonstrate a coherent policy approach between skills and environmental policies, and for national governments to ensure their workforces can capitalize on green job opportunities in the maritime industry, and avoid their people and industries missing out.

If environmental policy-makers agree on a more ambitious decarbonization trajectory this coming July at the Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting (MEPC 80), then national governments at the IMO should react by fast-tracking the development of training standards for alternative fuels to ensure the training infrastructure is in place to safely train a sufficient number of seafarers by the 2030s.

National-level action needed for low-carbon shipping

National governments can also ensure better coordination between their own departments, ministries, agencies and authorities that are responsible for the policy levers that need to be engaged to prepare populations and infrastructure for shipping’s low-carbon future.

Here collaboration with industry, unions and training institutions will be critical. As advocated by the Maritime Just Transition Task Force, tripartite skills councils which effectively monitor and anticipate skills will be increasingly essential to match supply and demand. With the majority of the nearly 2 million global seafarer workforce coming from the Global South, crew-supply countries may need particular support during the transition, including through the establishment of national skills bodies.

In the Philippines – whose seafarers make up 14% of the global seafarer workforce – the government is already taking action to secure their nation’s place as a maritime leader of tomorrow through engaging with the Maritime Just Transition Task Force and a newly-established tripartite ‘International Advisory Committee on Global Maritime Affairs’, which will contribute to the global competitiveness of Filipino seafarers and prepare them for decarbonization. This includes advising the government on training for green shipping.

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Indonesia is another major seafaring nation that is showing leadership, by collaborating with already-established skills councils, to participate in knowledge-sharing on maritime education.

Global shipping is already leading the way when it comes to ensuring a just transition for seafarers by establishing the first-ever task force dedicated to supporting a workforce to adapt to decarbonization. Governments demonstrating a joined-up, coordinated approach to skills development and climate change policy this week can be its next step.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Energy TransitionSupply Chains and TransportationClimate Action
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