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The Switch: Why can’t governments respond to climate change the same way they did to COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the world functions as governments and leaders across the globe have implemented unprecedented measures to curb the spreading of the virus.

The life as we know it changed completely with factory lockdowns, closures of unessential services and stay at home orders.

However, when it comes to committing to address the greatest danger to our planet, climate change, political leaders are not that adamant and proactive.

 “Why hasn’t the climate crisis elicited the same urgent response from global governments as the corona pandemic?”  Asbjørn Halsebakke, Product Manager, Yaskawa Environmental Energy / The Switch, asks.

The World Health Organization estimates that seven million people die every year due to air pollution. The same body reports that between 2030 and 2050 an additional 250,000 deaths will occur each year as a direct result of further global warming, relating to factors such as heat stress and malnutrition. These figures precede the impact of the anticipated rising sea levels, wildfires, and extreme weather.

Halsebakke believes that shipping has a key role to play in combating climate change but first it has to undergo a change of its own.

“Work is underway. The IMO has set the ambitious, yet crucial, target of reducing GHG emissions by 50% (compared to 2008 levels) by 2050, with the overall aim of eliminating them entirely. This is to be applauded, but it also needs to be supported.

When I speak to shipowners, I usually find them eager to introduce green technology, help reduce emissions and work towards a more sustainable industry. But, quite frankly, they cannot make this transition alone. They need help,” he explains.

Shipping being a notoriously capital-intensive market, investing in environmentally friendly solutions may not be the first priority for shipowners. As such, the sector needs support from governments and regulators to deliver the policy and instruments that will facilitate the green shift.


According to Halsebakke, taxes on vessels with poor environmental performance would encourage the uptake of better solutions, while the income from those taxes could be used to support the development and installation of new technology.

He stressed that governments should shoulder a greater financial burden of compliance with stricter regulations the same way as they are providing aid right now.

“Research into green synthetic fuels – a vaccine against pollution – could be fast-tracked and centrally supported, while the technology that is already available and proven today, such as batteries and hybrid systems, could be encouraged for immediate efficiency and emissions gains on today’s world fleet,” he added.

“Newbuilds with future-proof technology, capable of utilizing any fuel source, such as The Switch DC-Hub, could be incentivized for owners, ensuring that they have the capability to meet all future regulations and fuel mixes, for long-term compliance and efficient sailing.”

As explained, these relatively modest measures could translate into huge environmental benefits if launched now.

“If the corona pandemic has proven anything, it’s shown we are certainly capable of doing that, achieving extraordinary things in remarkably tight timescales,” he concluded.

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