Shipping leaders are joining forces to ensure the industry successfully navigates climate change, rising fuel costs, new patterns of global trade and other challenges of the future, according to Lloyd’s Register (LR).

LR has joined forces with Maersk Line, Gearbulk, BP Shipping and ABN Amro are working with Forum for the Future and WWF in an ambitious project designed to chart a course to a sustainable future.

The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) will examine the challenges and opportunities which face the industry over the next 30 years and what it needs to do to ensure that, by 2040, it is robust and profitable with a strong record of social and environmental responsibility.

“Shipping plays a vital role in global trade and affects the lives of billions of people around the world," said Jonathon Porritt, founder director of Forum for the Future. "Smart shipping companies can see the way the wind is blowing in terms of today's pressing sustainability issues, and leadership of this kind is crucial to the future success of the whole industry.”

Climate change and new weather patterns; oil shortages and carbon taxes; changing markets and cargoes, particularly in Asia; piracy and marine governance; new ship designs and other technological developments: strategic megatrends like these will profoundly affect the industry. The Sustainable Shipping Initiative will enable participants to prepare for, influence and take advantage of these trends and play a leading role in shaping the future of the industry.

Jacob Sterling, head of climate and environment in Maersk Line, said: "Climate change is a huge challenge for all, and we believe that shipping is not only part of the problem, we can also be part of the solution. We hope that the SSI will deliver an action plan that can strengthen the role of the shipping industry in shaping a low-carbon future."

The founder members aim to bring other leading organizations from across the industry into the SSI, including global shipping firms, shippers and financiers. Members will identify the key megatrends which will affect shipping, explore how best to react to them, and prepare a case for action as a resource for the entire industry.

"Shipping is the least energy-intensive form of trade transport but, to create a truly sustainable model, we still have to find ways to lessen our impact on the planet. The members of the SSI are proven industry leaders with a clear view of how to manage the challenges ahead," said Tom Boardley, marine director at LR.

CEOs and board-level representatives will launch this case for action at a members’ summit in 2011, chaired by Porritt. This will set the agenda for creating a vision of a sustainable shipping industry and a plan to create a step change in the social, environmental and economic sustainability of the shipping industry.

"Our involvement in the SSI supports our sustainability vision which is 'To take responsibility for the future through the choices we make today'," said Kristian Jebsen, chairman and CEO of Gearbulk. "Our work with the Forum for the Future is a way of ensuring that shipping is able to operate in a manner which takes all stakeholders into consideration, as well as to evaluate and reduce the impact human activity has on the planet."

The ultimate goal is to mobilise support across the industry for this action plan, which may include technical and engineering initiatives, policy proposals, development programmes for industry leaders and marketing and communications plans.