Want a level playing field? Talk to the developing nations

imo innovation forum is an opportunity to get a grasp of how maritime decarbonisation can happen to all sectors and geographies equally

The IMO’s zero and low emission Innovation forum kicks off on Monday next week (27th September). It is a three-day deep dive into how maritime innovation can become more inclusive and be part of the decarbonisation agenda across the world, notably in the developing countries. It is worth noting that this has been co developed by the IMO and UNEP, the United Nation’s Environment Program. UNEP focuses heavily on development work.


This is not an ordinary conference, nor is it about debating the technologies to reduce CO2 emissions from existing ships. To some it is more important than that. I know because I have just spent this week talking to nearly all the panelists ahead of moderating the event.


This event is about looking at how the West/North/developed world has embraced innovation over the last five or so years, and to see how some of the models that have evolved can be replicated in developing regions to help with their efforts. It is about decarbonisation, but more about the pathways to bring the solutions to the rest of the world than what specific technology solution is available.


It is also about bringing innovation into regions so that those governments can feel more positive about the actual long term (and sometimes politically sensitive) decarbonisation strategies that are being discussed internationally (an important point when one considers UNFCCC’s COP 26 is in a few weeks).


Development economists know well how small island developing states and the least developed countries need financial support for both mitigation and resilience efforts in the face of climate change. Many will also have seen the reports from scientists behind the latest IPCCC reports on how too little is still being done globally.


The five voices of experience

In 2017 the IMO received €10m in funds from the European Union to establish regional centres to encourage technical cooperation in the developing regions. The result was five MTCCs (Maritime Technology Cooperation Centres) established in five different regions.

Their purposes are multiple, but include building up local and regional knowledge and competencies. Their experience over the last four years are critical here and all five will offer short updates to allow a picture to be built of innovation possibilities in the developing regions.

Money talks

FINSMART means “Financing Sustainable Maritime Transport” and its purpose is to see how the private and public funds, that are being made available for developing countries (and through this their companies) to mitigate climate and environmental risks, can be applied into the maritime spheres in developing regions. It is looking at building tools to enable developing countries, notably their national banks, gain access to the right kind of capital they need to transform and find maritime related investments less risky (and therefore bankable). A key finance panel on the IMO innovation forum will take the findings of the speakers that have highlighted the state of play, risks and opportunities, and look at these through the finance prism.

The Green Voyage that all must go down

Norway is funding the Green Voyage programme 2050 another project focused on small island developing states and least developed countries. Its focus is on aiding them in their efforts to meet climate change and shipping related efficiency goals. In UN words it is about capacity, which means the ability to have the right people in the developing countries with the right access to resources and the knowledge on how to make things work. It falls under the IMO backed Global Industry Alliance (to support low carbon shipping) and raising the chances for effective low carbon maritime transport. Clearly this links into the IMO Glomeep project and the MTCC work on capacity building.

Don’t confuse the Norwegian funded Green Voyage 2050 programme with Norway’s own Green Shipping Programme (GSP) which is a public-private partnership in the Scandinavian country, and will also be present at the Forum to help demonstrate potential models of innovation that may have transferable elements for developing countries and their efforts.

We also know that shipping is largely owned and controlled by the west, just look at the signatories of the Getting to Zero Coalition and the Global Industry Alliance. That’s not a criticism of those efforts, I have now spoken to representatives from both organisations, and they recognise this and are pushing for developing world inclusion into their work.


Only 13% of global shipping is registered in developing countries, and here I mean registered but not in a commercial registry. But it still stands that the shipowners that control the global fleet are western, the technology companies are as well, and to some extent the loudest voices on the regulatory front too.



One can argue that the developing countries are where international ships go to get their cargo, not where shipping can change. They arrive at a load port, discharge their ballast water, emit their fumes, load cargo and rush off to the developed world (where we live with a need for rapid deliveries).



However, when ships are sent to these countries in the future, they will likely need to access low carbon fuel, or meet their emission requirements with shore-based electrical solutions.



Additionally, it may be that some countries in the developing world have large coastlines or a great number of islands, and therefore have significant coastal fleets that will also need either retrofitting or renewing.



Not all innovation models will be applicable to all countries, there are big differences between countries and the challenges they face. But this forum should help raise awareness of the models, the range of challenges and perhaps help strengthen the way forward for more collaboration, co-operation and transition. How can developing countries transition to become net clean energy producers and supply home produced green fuels to visiting ships? How can this journey be financed?



The developing world needs the tools to decarbonise just as urgently as the developed countries, and that includes their maritime services and infrastructure, critically so in some places. Yet to date there is no coherent effort to look at what that means and how it can be supported in a fair way.



We do have participation from within development economics outside maritime, and I hope to see how some of these, and the West’s experiences can be translated into tools. 

We also have the heads of the five maritime technology cooperation centres that were established with EU funds a few years ago to get some grass roots update of what maritime innovation means in these regions. We also have financial institutions. There are voices from around the maritime world.



As the moderator of this event, I need to be able to draw out of the panel, of exceptional speakers and leaders, their understanding of the challenges, what examples we already see and how we can close the gaps, and by that, I mean the gap between developing country capability and developed, and the finance gap.



If you want to follow the event you can. I believe you can register and can also follow it on YouTube. It will run for three hours a day for three days online (1200 BST to 1500 BST).

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