The maritime industry must improve its forecasting to prepare for a range of possible futures. The Triple Planetary Crisis— characterised by climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution—will be the defining challenge that shapes the decades ahead. Global Maritime Trends 2050 seeks to explore potential futures for the maritime industry in 2050.
The report, produced in collaboration with Economist Impact, identifies four possible scenarios that could possibly determine how the world’s maritime business develops between now and 2050. Two of them are broadly positive; two are deeply worrying.
The first two scenarios explore the widespread adoption of green hydrogen and the development of automated systems in the maritime sphere. They represent two positive visions for the industry and shed light on what will be required to in terms of opportunities and challenges to reach them.
The two scenarios based on rising sea levels and fragmented global trade are pessimistic. They both aim to imagine what the world could look like when attempts to cooperate globally have failed, preventing the integration of technology for the benefit of economies and society as a whole.
Other industries are much better at forecasting. The financial sector, for example, has a deep understanding of potential future scenarios and how to prepare for them, but shipping lags behind. From tackling the energy transition to sourcing the next generation of seafarers, we’ve allowed uncertainty to delay action for too long. Now we’ve created a way for the industry to get a much better idea of the future.
The report is even more striking because the analysts at Economist Impact were not shipping researchers per se. But they examined the ways in which the maritime sector could be affected by developments across five key parameters with a direct bearing on world trade between now and 2050. The parameters are as follows:
- Geopolitical and macroeconomic
- Natural resources
The researchers found that global shipping is too reactive and must improve its forecasting to prepare for a range of futures, none of which is yet clear. In one scenario, for example, population growth and a shortage of resources are catalysts for deglobalisation and the development of regional communities. This could have a dramatic impact on global shipping, particularly the deep-sea trades.
Other likely changes identified by the researchers relate to sea levels. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea levels are expected to rise by between 29cm and 50cm by 2100. A rise of 40cm by mid-century would radically alter coastlines and render some ports unusable: the researchers said Houston, Shanghai and Lázaro Cárdenas are at risk, amongst many others.
Meanwhile, much of shipping’s labour force is likely to be supplied by countries in Africa. According to the International Monetary Fund, the continent will have the youngest median age of just 25 by mid-century.
The research team also concluded that more women would work in shipping by then, with a technology-driven energy transition and more autonomy making the industry more accessible and attractive. By mid-century, they suggested, intensive manual labour would have been taken over by autonomous processes and systems.
Amid global supply chain uncertainty, the urgent need to decarbonise, the integration of new technologies, concerns about human rights and safety at sea, and the future of labour supplies, it’s crucial that those in the shipping industry do everything in their power to anticipate, mitigate, and overcome these challenges without causing harm elsewhere.
In conclusion, the research team found:
- Now, more than ever, it is important for stakeholders to start envisioning what possible futures could look like - both optimistic and pessimistic;
- Cooperation and innovation will be necessary, and need to go hand in hand in order to realise futures that are productive, fair and liveable;
- The tools and pathways exist, but in order to see how these can come to life, we need the creativity and courage to imagine what futures are available to us - and how we need to act to address these;
- Our hope is that this exercise allows industry leaders and local and national policy makers to start planning for these plausible – albeit currently fictional – scenarios. This is where further research can be undertaken.
To decarbonise at the scale and urgency needed, the Economist Impact experts said that the report should be seen as a reminder that cooperation and innovation are not only necessary, but also need to go hand in hand to realise futures that are productive, fair, and liveable. The tools and pathways are there, but to see how these can come to life, we need the creativity and courage to imagine what futures are available to us. Our hope is that this exercise allows industry leaders and local and national policymakers to start planning for these plausible – albeit currently fictional – scenarios, they said.
The Global Maritime Trends 2050 research programme will include a series of reports commissioned by Lloyd’s Register and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation from expert organisations. The aim of the initiative is to identify what is needed to create a safe and sustainable maritime sector, in the face of geopolitical, macroeconomic, technological, and other societal shifts.