Global Shipping and the Impact of CO2 Emissions

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(Image Courtesy: Capital Product)

Globalization makes it easy to send goods around the world. The cost for shipping goods has never been as low as now. However, the choice of the means of transportation does severely influence the amount of CO2 emitted for the transportation of goods.

Shipping could be responsible for 17% of global CO2 emissions in 2050 if left unregulated, according to a new scientific study. CO2 reduction targets and measures for shipping are needed to help keep warming below dangerous levels.

However the IMO, the UN body tasked with tackling the climate impacts of shipping, has so far failed to grasp the nettle on shipping’s growing contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while the proposal for emissions cuts from industry – as represented by the International Chamber of Shipping – would fall short of what shipping needs to do to help meet the 2°C warming target limit by some 121%.

Almost 40% of all CO2 emissions in 2050 will be caused by shipping and aviation if left unregulated. Shipping GHG emissions are up 70% since 1990 and are projected to grow by up to a further 250% by 2050.

Shipping currently accounts for nearly 3% of global CO2 emissions – higher than those of Canada, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, France or the United Kingdom.

There is no doubt any more: In order to mitigate global warming, the emission of greenhouse gases must be reduced, the sooner the better. This will then lead to a stabilization of the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere – and in the very long term hopefully to a decreasing concentration.

The level at which the greenhouse gas concentration gets stabilized does determine the warming effect, i.e. the temperature increase of the earth’s surface and of the oceans.

Once the ocean’s pH has been lowered, it will take thousands of years to reverse. Thus, reducing carbon dioxide emissions will be critical to minimizing future ocean acidification. Even if emissions are reduced, however, the ocean will inevitably continue to undergo significant human-induced changes throughout this century.

Previous attempts by the industry to calculate levels of carbon emissions were largely based on the quantity of low grade fuel bought by shipowners. The latest UN figures are considered more accurate because they are based on the known engine size of the world’s ships, as well as the time they spend at sea and the amount of low grade fuel sold to shipowners.

World trade and ship numbers have seen a steady increase, but in parallel there have been economies of scale with larger, more efficient ships. Individual ships have steadily been reducing their fuel consumption for the last 20 years.

Governments have consistently played down the climate impact of shipping, saying it is less than 2% of global emissions and failing to include shipping emissions in their national estimates for CO2 emissions. However, pressure is now expected to increase on shipowners to switch to better fuels.

Sea News Feature, July 12