In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Mrs Maria Polakis, Former Lead of Blue Sky’s Finance Commercial & Chartering Workstream, explains what role the Blue Sky Maritime Coalition plays to support sustainability and promote maritime decarbonization while advancing climate and socioeconomic justice goals. Mrs Polakis clarifies that a true sustainability strategy should ensure that decarbonization of shipping does not shift emissions to other sectors and be in accordance with globally accepted frameworks, standards and certification.
When it comes to ESG, Mrs Polakis notes that the industry is making ‘steady progress’ towards but it needs to focus on developing policies and transparent procedures to manage ESG risks and opportunities effectively.
SAFETY4SEA: Tell us a few words about the Blue-Sky Maritime Coalition. What is the focus, and goals of the program?
Maria Polakis: The Blue Sky Maritime Coalition (or Blue Sky) is a non-profit organization focused on the need to address climate change and is committed to accelerating the transition of waterborne transportation in the United States and Canada toward net-zero GHG emissions. Blue Sky is a distinct coalition that brings together stakeholders from across the maritime value chain such as shipping companies, energy providers, financial institutions, classification societies, academia and policy makers.
S4S: What are the top priorities in your agenda for the next five years?
M.P.: Blue Sky’s objective is to support significant near-term reductions in GHG emissions and accelerate the industry toward commercially viable, net-zero emissions shipping. A key priority is to encourage innovation and accelerate the needed investments in vessels, infrastructure and pilot projects that will achieve this objective. A critical point to a successful energy transition is to secure production at scale, uptake, and safe implementation of low/zero carbon marine fuels. Blue Sky is fostering close collaboration between regulators, governments, energy providers and technology manufacturers. We are also actively working with our members and knowledge partners to establish transparent and verifiable GHG calculation methodologies on a well-to-wake basis.
S4S: What does the word ‘sustainability’ mean for the maritime industry? What are some of the key actions your organization is taking to encourage sustainable shipping practices?
M.P.: The term ‘sustainability’ is commonly used in direct connection to emissions reduction and minimizing the GHG footprint of vessel operations by using low/zero carbon fuels. However, a true sustainability strategy would ensure that decarbonization of shipping does not shift emissions to other sectors (e.g., by direct or indirect land use change when producing alternative fuels). Sustainability would also address a broad range of environmental impacts across the marine asset’s lifecycle including societal challenges and human wellbeing. More importantly, and for a strategy to be effective, it is expected to adhere to globally accepted frameworks, standards and certification. Blue Sky Maritime Coalition is working closely with industry partners, academic institutions and regulators on actionable sustainability projects that promote maritime decarbonization while advancing climate and socioeconomic justice goals.
S4S: What are the key actions that will make a step change in industry’s performance across a zero-emission future?
M.P.: To achieve shipping’s decarbonization goals, the industry needs regulations that will maximize the impact of ‘first mover’ projects and support broader value chain collaboration initiatives such as green shipping corridors. Global and regional policy frameworks are further needed to scale up technology, fuels and decarbonization solutions. At the same time, the uptake of digitalization across the maritime sector to optimize ship voyages, cargo operations and port activities, will be critical to meet global decarbonization targets and regional ambition levels. Training programs need to be established to expand the technical skillsets of the current workforce and educate new generations of maritime professionals, while maintaining a primary focus on safety.
S4S: How will new trends, new technologies and innovation influence our long-term ambitions and the way we achieve them towards a zero-emission shipping industry?
M.P.: As technology matures and safety standards are established, we expect power generation systems, low-carbon fuels and other innovative solutions to become increasingly prevalent and pave the way to a net-zero future. For this expectation to materialize, we need policy frameworks and risk-based regulatory requirements to support safe and compliant implementation. Furthermore, government incentives coupled with carbon pricing mechanisms have the potential to unlock private funding which will drive down the use of fossil fuels and the implementation costs of new fuels and technology.
S4S: From your perspective, what are the key barriers that the maritime industry is currently facing with regards to decarbonization? What are your suggestions to turn these into opportunities?
S4S: The timeline to reach net-zero is tight, but necessary if we want to align with the 1.5 C Paris Agreement goal. The shipping industry needs to accelerate its decarbonization pace, from identifying the best candidate fuels and solutions across the entire range of vessel types and propulsion systems, all the way to developing the needed infrastructure ashore. As mentioned above, it is important to expedite the regulatory development process while continuing to issue robust design requirements and operational criteria regarding safety, security and environmental compliance. Additionally, when looking at fuels, the regulatory landscape is complex, and methodologies vary around the world in terms of quantifying climate impact from a lifecycle perspective. However, multiple announcements on public/private sector collaboration to establish green shipping corridors, including regional commitments to produce increasingly high volumes of zero-carbon fuels, are signals toward the right direction. Green shipping corridors have the potential to expedite the development of necessary policy and unlock industry investments, provided that the fine and highly susceptible balance between energy transition and energy security is maintained.
S4S: In your view, has our industry realized the importance of ESG? How can the maritime sector tackle with ESG issues proactively?
M.P.: While in its early stages, the shipping industry is making steady progress toward establishing ESG strategies, roadmaps and performance benchmarks. The demand to disclose corporate responsibility through ESG reporting is being driven by multiple stakeholders including regulators, financial organizations, cargo owners and end users. Presently, shipping organizations should explore how to develop policies and transparent procedures to manage ESG risks and opportunities and continuously review their disclosure approach given the many, and rapidly evolving, ESG indexes and rankings.
S4S: What is your message to US and Canada maritime stakeholders with regards to a more sustainable shipping?
M.P.: Getting to net-zero is going to take collaborative and actionable approaches. We must continue to work together to identify steps, no matter how small, that will help continue to move the needle. That is why Blue Sky Maritime Coalition exists, to bring diverse stakeholders and perspectives together to identify opportunities that can make a difference and bring us all closer to net-zero ambitions.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
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