Climate change is a global challenge, and we know that transport is the biggest global cause of carbon emissions. That’s why it’s essential that we look at transport holistically, rather than focussing solely on cars, and why the government is now looking to turn the tide on green shipping.
Britain has ‘ruled the waves’ for centuries. From ships to power oceanic trade to a large merchant navy fleet, we were once known the world over for being a great seafaring nation. The earliest vessels to have been discovered date back to the Middle Bronze Age, some 5,000 years ago where our ancestors are thought to have used sewn plank boats in cross-estuary and inland coastal areas.
Since this time, we have seen paddle propulsion gradually give way to the screw propeller, until eventually the introduction of iron and steel hulls during the industrial revolution overtook wooden ships, allowing larger vessels driven by steam power to set sail. These vessels helped to drive our international trade and protected our seas.
The powerful ships of today - from giant cruise liners to vast vessels that carry goods to our Isles - are mostly powered by diesel. The power system on board, including the generators and the boilers, also operate on this fuel. So as we move away from diesel-powered transport on other modes, including trains and cars, can the same be said for ships?
In fact, experts believe that large ships probably burn at least 150 tonnes of fuel a day, and emit more sulphur than several million cars, more NO2 gas than all the traffic passing through a medium-sized town and more particulate emissions than thousands of London buses. It was recently announced that thousands of ships, cruises and vessels are set to become greener as part of the Government’s Shipbuilding Strategy. With the launch of a new unit - UK SHORE - to tackle shipping emissions, it is hoped that advances can be made towards a sustainable shipping future right here in the UK.
The funding, which amounts to £206m, will accelerate the research and development of clean maritime technologies which could make journeys by sea as green as they were hundreds of years ago. It is hoped that by enabling green shipping solutions at home, these can in turn be exported across the world.
Could it be our time to rule the waves again, but this time in a way that's kinder to the environment? UK SHORE is set to be housed in the Department for Transport and will run a comprehensive R&D programme. It will also work in partnership with industry to tackle supply and demand issues with ship building and to help build greener vessels – from cruises, to tankers to leisure boats.
So could the cruise holidays we take eventually be on ships powered on alternatives to fuel? Or the strawberries we eat in the winter arrive here in a greener, more sustainable way? We’ve a long way to go, with no doubt some choppy seas along the way, but we’re certainly heading in the right direction. Our Bronze Age ancestors would be proud.