Youth looks to maritime industry to take lead on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Diversity, equity, and inclusionTalentMental health

The next generation of maritime leaders believe the maritime sector can contribute to the Sustainable Development Agenda by reducing its impact on the environment, promoting inclusive growth, improving the wellbeing of seafarers, and diversifying its workforce.

Between the months of April and June 2020, the annual Future Maritime Leaders essay competition called on students and young professionals to voice their opinions on the sustainable future of the maritime industry. This year’s competition addressed the need for the maritime industry to contribute to delivering the 17 Sus­­­tainable Development Goals (SDGs), taking inspiration from the United Nation’s decade of action.

Our call for ideas was answered by 101 participants from 37 different countries spanning the globe. The participants came from diverse educational and professional backgrounds, offering a myriad of perspectives on the maritime sector’s role in supporting the Sustainable Development Agenda. Despite the breadth of the topics which participants covered in this year’s competition, a few trends and key topics nevertheless emerged from our reading of the essays. They are described in the following paragraphs.

Future Maritime Leaders essay competition 2020_Submissions by continent

Participants saw environmental sustainability as the main area where the maritime industry can contribute to realising the SDGs. Many essays also focused on issues of inclusive growth, seafarer wellbeing – especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic – and inclusion and diversity, both at sea and on land. A large number of submissions addressed multiple SDGs, drawing on different synergies between them.

Future Maritime Leaders essay competition 2020_Submissions by theme

Environmental sustainability tops youth’s agenda

The majority of this year’s submissions highlighted environmental sustainability as a key concern for the maritime industry in contributing towards realising the SDGs. These entries covered a range of different cross-cutting topics, with many addressing areas connected to climate change, emissions, and the energy transition. A large proportion of these essays presented shipping’s decarbonisation as a key challenge and opportunity for the maritime industry, both in terms of the new opportunities that decarbonisation could offer particularly developing countries, as well as challenges in terms of quantifying emissions or stimulating the uptake of zero-emission fuels.

In addition to essays focusing specifically on emissions of greenhouse gases, there was also a significant proportion of essays which focused on other environmental issues. This included focusing on ocean health in terms of pollution and dumping at sea, as well addressing issues like ship recycling and circular economy. Many essays highlighted the maritime industry’s unique role in promoting practises which can ensure that the ocean and the environment is protected in such a way that it is capable of contributing to the realisation the SDGs in general.

Industry can play a key role in unlocking inclusive growth

Another significant trend in the topics addressed by the participants was the maritime industry’s role in promoting inclusive global growth. This especially focused on supporting the development aims of emerging economies in order to ensure that no one is left behind in working to achieve the SDGs. It is worth noting that this year we experienced a high amount of participation from developing countries, in particular from Africa and Asia. Many of these entries focused on the opportunities which the maritime industry could unlock for their economies in terms of stimulating new industries and trade opportunities.

A proportion of these essays focused on the maritime industry’s ability to unlock employment opportunities in developing countries through both directly hiring and educating in these countries, as well as being able to help stimulate job creation in other industries like the energy sector. Other essays highlighted the significant role that the maritime industry plays in terms of alleviating poverty, seeking to find further ways that it can contribute particularly in terms of linking some of the most acutely affected parts of the world to the global economy. These entries ultimately highlighted the need for increased levels of partnerships between maritime stakeholders and the developing world, in order to seek further ways to collaborate in ensuring inclusive growth.

Seafarer wellbeing hits close to home

This year’s competition also received several essays concerning seafarer wellbeing, with many of these putting forward first-hand

This year’s competition also received several essays concerning seafarer wellbeing, with many of these putting forward first-hand accounts of working at sea. These essays were often unique and hard hitting, giving a strong impression of the participant’s experiences and desires to see the maritime industry contribute to realising the SDGs.

Due the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on seafarer changeovers, a proportion of these essays focused on difficulties for seafarers in terms of mass stranding as well as problems returning home and sending payments to family. Other essays focused on the increasing importance of technology in seafarers’ day to day work, highlighting the need for the maritime industry to contribute to educating and training existing seafarers to adapt to these new responsibilities. Lastly, a notable amount of the participants also addressed the specific experience of women seafarers, discussing the difficultly for women working in what has historically been a male-dominated profession.

Youth highlights need for more inclusion and diversity

There was a significant overlap between essays addressing both seafarer wellbeing and inclusion and diversity, focusing on discrimination experienced by seafarers in terms of both gender and nationality. The remaining essays addressing inclusion and diversity focused on the need for the maritime industry to improve how it can follow others in creating the conditions needed to attract the talent of the future. In this way, the essays highlighted a need to contribute to both a more conscious approach to understanding differences at the workplace as well as furthering the training and education of less advantaged groups.

New ideas, new opportunities

Through its key role in global trade and its many connections across the value chain, the maritime industry has the potential to contribute to realizing a wide variety of SDGs. If the results of the Future Maritime Leaders essay competition are any indication, future generations of maritime leaders are aware of the maritime sector’s vital role in building a sustainable future, and do not lack ideas on how to help it do so.

Disclaimer: We would like to thank all the future maritime leaders who participated in the competition. This article is based on the content synthesis of 88 submitted and qualified essays, and does not reflect the view of any one essay author. The data on submissions by region is approximate and based on the participants’ submitted information. The content of this article is the sole responsibility of the authors.