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Importance of sustainability in maritime growth

The Business Times by RASMUS JARLOV

IT is in everyone's interest to drive the maritime sector from a traditional rust belt industry to a digital innovator. Not only for the directors and the people on the decks, but for all citizens, cities and the societies as a whole. Oceans are our most important global common. They provide nutrition and minerals for billions of people and their depth is a crucial source of minerals and medical research.

New technologies hold enormous potential for renewable energy from waves, wind and tidal waters and in April, the International Maritime Organization agreed to cut the shipping sector's total annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050. If the world is to enjoy sustainable economic growth, green shipping is a given factor. Growth in the maritime sector has many colours and more green ships will travel the oceans. Singapore and Denmark joined hands to digitalise the maritime industry as a catalyst for entrepreneurship, data collection and sustainable innovation. It is going to be green, blue and bright.


Historically known as leading seafaring nations, we share a common past. As frontrunners in digital transition, we also want to write a prosperous common future. Notoriously among the best worldwide to do business, our small nations attract a large pool of innovative startups and researchers. Our greatest resource is our people. In the future, their innovations shall play an ever central role in driving the future economy and elevate an already strong maritime collaboration.

The maritime industry has had a slow adoption of new technologies, and to push innovation, we need to make ways for the large flagships to share information, commit resources and invite young tech startups on board.

Singapore and Denmark already have an agreement on green, quality shipping, but a new extended collaboration between NUS Enterprise, Rainmaking and the innovation hubs Block71 (Singapore) and Pier47 (Denmark) aims to mobilise the industry beyond dialogue. By moving awareness into action, the collaboration connects entrepreneurs with maritime and logistic corporations to boost innovation-driven growth and lift the wider society.

Denmark is reducing the administrative burdens in the maritime sector through digitisation, and data collection is key in greenhouse gas reduction and climate actions. The UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) will undoubtedly be one of the strongest technological drivers ahead, and by breaking them down into operational tools, our companies can create instant business opportunities. A green focus is a natural co-player in the innovation process, and a natural part of maritime growth.

It is estimated that the SDGs will open up US$12 trillion per year in business opportunities for the private sector towards 2030. Seizing such opportunities requires revitalised and strengthened partnerships, and the SDGs may prove to be the next business language for our exporting companies.


Denmark comes in as the second-fastest achiever of the SDGs worldwide and Singapore is among the Asia-Pacific's best-performing nations. With its Smart Nation strategy, Singapore is largely open for deep SDG integration and our two nations have already taken the lead by hosting the first editions of the world's largest innovation lab, UNLEASH - in Singapore this year and in Denmark as the launchpad in 2017. For the maritime industry, SDG 14 to "conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development" is central. But for our business, it also includes the economic elements of inclusive industries, innovation and resilient infrastructure (SDG 9), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), economic growth (SDG 8) and climate actions (SDG 13).

The maritime community must actively contribute to the environmental, social and economic dimensions of all the goals, but it is a challenge. With an estimated five million full-time jobs worldwide, the maritime industry is challenged to provide proper working conditions while facilitating economic growth through affordable services - and not at the expense of our climate and the environment. Around 90 per cent of all ships are recycled, but far too many end up on beaches in developing countries with a lack of safe working conditions. The way forward is promotion of responsible practices, upgrading vessels with innovative, green technologies, a strong focus on R&D and use of digital technologies to collect data on the oceans. To catch the wave and further harvest economic growth, we must involve our bright, innovative startups.

Digitisation and being a knowledge hub are at the heart of our plan to be a global maritime hub by 2025. Singapore is an important partner for Denmark and a central hub for the world. Through closer partnerships and involvement of our startups, the sustainability agenda shall extract more innovation and new growth opportunities for the benefit of our people, our planet and future prosperity. Singapore and Denmark are in global positions to lead the way.

  • The writer is Denmark's Minister of Industry, Business And Financial Affairs. He begins a three-day visit to Singapore on Sep 9 to drive maritime innovation and promote fintech collaboration with focus on the Sustainable Development Goals as drivers for future growth.