A frustrated optimist’s call for action

A frustrated optimist’s call for action

Leaders in the maritime industry are joining forces to support decarbonisation through the Global Maritime Forum’s call to action initiative. Wärtsilä’s CEO Jaakko Eskola is one of them. A chat with him reveals that he remains an optimist despite the slow pace of change.

Text: Lena Barner-Rasmussen Photo: Wärtsilä

What should the maritime industry do to decarbonise?
There are two ways: Switch to low-carbon fuels, such as LNG and be mindful of fuel efficiency. With the help of digitalisation we can make sure that everything is done in an optimal manner: Ship design, route, speed, maintenance and so on. Then there is a big potential of saving fuel and reducing emissions by developing the whole logistic chain by increasing the interaction with ports and vessels.

We have, for several years, known about the state of this planet. We also know that the marine industry is a significant polluter. Why are things happening so slowly?
The shipping industry has been grappling with low profitability for quite some years now. Some of the solutions for decarbonisation involve significant investments.

If you look at the cruise industry, it’s quite a different story though. As they are operating in a booming market, this segment has been quicker to adapt. It’s also a question of end consumers putting pressure on the cruise companies. People are increasingly aware and demand cruise ships to be as clean as possible. Even though 90% of our everyday items are brought to us by sea, consumers have been slow to demand a sustainable logistics chain. The consumers have the ultimate power.

How much does legislation help?
Since we are talking about sizable investments, we need predictability when it comes to legislation. For instance, IMO (International Maritime Organization) imposed regulation when it comes to sulphur content of the marine fuels. But then the deadline was pushed forward by two years. This puts those who have made the necessary investments in an unfavourable position. And as the IMO does not have the legislative authority to impose sanctions on those who fail to comply, the whole regulation risks falling flat. So we need predictability and firm decisions, as well as a surveillance mechanism. It falls on national legislation to do that. In the end I think end consumers – you and I – can do a lot by demanding our everyday items be brought to us in a sustainable manner.

Is this why you have launched what you call ‘Oceanic awakening’ and ‘SEA20’ initiatives?
Yes. We are very frustrated with the slow pace. With ‘Oceanic Awakening’ we want to focus on how a radical transformation of the world’s marine and energy industries can lead to concrete results. Within this concept we have initiated SEA20, an international forum for the world’s important port cities. Ports are integral to the way we live. If we can transform them, we can transform entire societies.

So it’s really one big collaboration exercise?
Yes. Climate change is a global threat the world is fighting, and that is why it has to be tackled on a global level where both companies and nations, cities in this case, set aside their own agenda, and adhere to decisions made on a global level. We are moving much too slowly on this.

It’s difficult to remain optimistic when you scan the news. Is the glass half full or half empty?
Half full, absolutely! It’s so easy to complain about everything that is wrong, but if you take a minute we have also made enormous progress. It’s amazing how inexpensive solar energy has become. Same with wind energy. The production of hydrogen is also decreasing in price. In 30 years hydrogen and hydrogen based synthetic fuels could be a dominating source of energy. So yes, I remain an optimist! 

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