Maritime transport and climate policy at a critical juncture, UNCTAD Report says

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Maritime transport and climate policy at a critical juncture, UNCTAD Report says
UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport 2015 also explains sector’s economic, social and environmental dimensions

Geneva, Switzerland, 14 October 2015

Maritime transport is at a critical juncture as the global community commits to the new Sustainable Development Goals and gears up for a new international climate policy agreement. The UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport 20151 highlights the role of freight transport, including maritime transport, in addressing the global sustainability and resilience agenda.

With more than 80 per cent of world merchandise trade by volume being carried by sea, maritime transport remains the backbone of international trade and globalization, the report says. Equally, the sector is a key enabling factor for other sectors and economic activities.
The sector has a new opportunity both to assert its strategic importance as an economic activity – one that creates jobs and revenue, enables trade, supports supply chains and links communities – and to underscore its potential to generate value in terms of social equity, conserving resources and protecting the environment. For the sector to take up this role effectively, however, sustainability and resilience criteria need to be integrated into transport development plans at the early stages of planning, decision-making and investment.

Removal of the physical and non-physical barriers that drive up costs and undermine trade is essential to the sustainability of freight transport systems including maritime transport. Developing countries in particular are faced with relatively higher transport costs due to limited transport connectivity and access to markets resulting from transport infrastructure gaps and inadequacy. In this context, a well-articulated vision for transport infrastructure should be pursued as a matter of priority. Another key element of enhancing the sustainability and resilience of maritime transport is the need to address the nexus between energy, transport costs, environmental degradation and climate change. Breaking away from fossil fuel-intensive maritime propulsion systems to reduce the sector’s overdependence on oil is essential. Investing in energy efficiency measures, alternative energy sources and more sustainable operational and management practices can help control fuel and transport costs, derive efficiency gains, enable more effective access to markets, promote trade competiveness, protect the environment and manage carbon emissions.

The Review of Maritime Transport 2015 underlines that maritime transport is facing the dual challenge of climate change mitigation and adaptation. While curbing greenhouse gas emissions remains urgent to ensure manageable global warming levels, the effects of climate variability and change – irrespective of the causes – are already being felt in different parts of the world, often in the poorest countries which are less able to cope.

Seaports, acting as key nodes in international transport networks across supply chains, are particularly vulnerable to climate change due to their location in coastal and low-lying areas. They are likely to be affected directly and indirectly by climatic factors such as rising sea levels, extreme weather events and rising temperatures. These factors will also affect port hinterland connections and transport corridors across transport networks as international trade increasingly requires the use of rail, road and waterway transport. In this context, building the climate resilience of maritime transport systems is a precondition for their long-term sustainability, the UNCTAD report says.

Scaling up finance levels and diversifying sources of finance is critical for the implementation of sustainable and resilient freight transport systems including in the maritime sector. In an era of increasingly constrained national budgets, therefore, finding innovative ways to mobilize financing is critical. New sources and mechanisms and greater private sector involvement such as through public–private partnerships are important. Climate finance could emerge as an important channel for mobilizing additional resources, including for maritime transport. 

Recent changes in the legal and regulatory framework

In 2014, important regulatory developments in the field of transport and trade facilitation included the adoption of the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), expected to enter into force on 1 January 2017, as well as a range of regulatory developments relating to maritime and supply chain security and environmental issues‎.

To further strengthen the legal framework relating to ship-source ‎air pollution and the reduction of GHG emissions from international shipping, several ‎regulatory measures were adopted at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and the Third IMO Greenhouse Gas Study 2014 was finalized. Also, guidelines for the development of the Inventory of Hazardous Materials required under ‎the ‎2010 International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea – not yet in force, however – were adopted, and further progress was ‎made with respect to technical matters related to ballast water management, ship recycling, and measures helping to prevent and combat pollution of the sea from oil and other harmful substances.

Continued enhancements were made to regulatory measures in the field of maritime and supply chain security and their implementation, including the issuance of a new version of the World Customs Organization Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade in June 2015, which includes ‎a new pillar 3: “Customs-to-other Government and inter-government agencies”. ‎

Meanwhile, as regards suppression of maritime piracy and armed robbery, positive developments were noted in the waters off the coast of Somalia and the wider western Indian Ocean. Concern remains, however, about the seafarers still being held hostage. A downward trend‎ of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea was also observed, indicating that international, regional and national efforts are beginning to take effect.