Logistics labour shortages and environmental issues are hot topics but are they so hot that factional interests vying for attention are clouding the issues? On the labour shortage issue it seems only 8% of the 11-20 year olds consider logistics to be an attractive career option, according to a recent survey by Talent in Logistics. This bodes ill for the driver aspect of logistics where, according to the RHA, the current driver shortage of 60,000 could reach 150,000 by 2021. Hopefully a Freight Transport Association (FTA) new event, The Labour Shortages Conference, scheduled for October 29 at the Macdonald Burlington Hotel, Birmingham, will prove helpful for businesses trying to understand and overcome the factors discouraging young people from joining the logistics workforce. If logistics is so unwelcoming to the young generation, engendered, perhaps, by the adverse Press comment on poor working conditions and low pay for many warehouse workers, it is to be hoped that the conference will address what can be done about that specific issue in an industry under tremendous delivery pressures and not known for its high profit margins.

The environmental issues affecting road logistics are also keeping the FTA busy but is some of their advice on Clean Air Zones (CAZs), for example, too partisan? The FTA believes that the CAZs are not the most effective way to reach government-imposed air quality improvement targets. To this end it has sent a briefing note to support local authorities tasked by government to model CAZs, explaining the limitations of theses disruptive schemes and advising them on alternative options. This includes incentivising the uptake of alternatively-fuelled and electric commercial vehicles, better management of congestion and enabling more deliveries to be retimed. The FTA also wants to see more local authorities build more charging points for electric vehicles and work alongside electricity suppliers to ensure there is enough grid capacity.

These suggestions all make sense but arguably what is not helpful is that they believe that any air quality benefit derived from CAZs will be very short lived as the Euro V6 vehicles required to enter a zone without charge will come into fleets of their own accord, as part of a natural fleet replacement cycle. Euro 6 has been mandatory in all new trucks since 2014. By the start of 2021, when many of these CAZs are due to go live, the FTA estimates that half the UK truck fleet will already be Euro V6, so according to them the scheme will soon become redundant. The fact remains, however, that the Euro V6 diesels are not all about CO2 emissions and their global warming contributions. They are also about the harmful sub 2.5 micron particulates which no diesel engines can currently handle. This may be partly why the ruling by European justices has allowed the banning of Euro V6 diesel engines in cities like Madrid, Paris and Brussels.

In the concentration on road emissions it seems the eye has been taken off the ball about the much dirtier contribution shipping makes to air pollution. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is under pressure to implement regulations to reduce the shipping sectors CO2 emissions but sulphur is a big health issue and progress is painfully slow and unevenly allocated. Most people will probably be unaware that living beside the seaside is not so healthy as believed if residents live by busy shipping lanes. Insurance companies’ records are a treasure trove of eye-opening, health-related statistics, one of which is that long-term exposure on such coasts can lop up to 30 months off one’s life span, owing to ships’ emissions which affect coastlines many miles away.

Can we expect, however, feasible alternatives for large cargo ship propulsion which are truly 100% “green”? Yes, we can, but timing is difficult to discern. There is already an all-electric ferry in Denmark and as previously reported in these columns Renault has partnered with the French start-up, Neoline, that specialises in sailing cargo ships. It expects to have two sail-powered ships by 2021 for transatlantic shipment of vehicles and their parts. Such ships, however, are hybrids and so include some small emissions but 100% emission-free sailing ships are not fantasy. This month London hosted a 33m-long catamaran. Called Energy Observer, it is powered entirely by solar, wind and hydrogen from sea water, confirming the feasibility of truly zero-emission maritime transport.

James Surridge

Publishing Editor

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