CO2 emissions by shipping much higher than thought

Posted: 14 February 2008

Author: John Vidal

The true scale of climate change emissions from shipping is almost three times higher than previously believed, according to a leaked UN study seen by the Guardian newspaper, London.

It calculates that annual emissions from the world's merchant fleet have already reached 1.12bn tonnes of CO2, or nearly 4.5 per cent of all global emissions of the main greenhouse gas.

The report suggests that shipping emissions - which are not taken into account by European targets for cutting global warming - will become one of the largest single sources of manmade CO2 after cars, housing, agriculture and industry. By comparison, the aviation industry, which has been under heavy pressure to clean up, is responsible for about 650m tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, just over half that from shipping.

Modern Ultra Large Crude Carrier
Modern Ultra Large Crude Carrier
An Ultra Large Crude Carrier. The industry claims that modern ships are more efficient.
Until now, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated shipping emissions to be a maximum 400m tonnes, but the new draft report by a group of international scientists is a more sophisticated measure, using data collected from the oil and shipping industries for the International Maritime Organisation, the UN agency tasked with monitoring pollution from ships. It not only shows emissions are much worse than feared, but warns CO2 emissions are set to rise by a further 30% by 2020.

Contacted about the contents of the report, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, said: "This is a clear failure of the system. The shipping industry has so far escaped publicity. It has been left out of the climate change discussion. I hope [shipping emissions] will be included in the next UN agreement. It would be a cop-out if it was not. It tells me that we have been ineffective at tackling climate change so far."

The UN report also reveals that other pollutants from shipping are rising even faster than CO2 emissions. Sulphur and soot emissions, which give rise to lung cancers, acid rain and respiratory problems are expected to rise more than 30 per cent over the next 12 years.

Peter Smith, managing director of Intertanko, the grouping of the world's largest tanker operators which provided data for the report, said the industry was taking steps to cut emissions. "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. One litre of fuel on a modern very large crude carrier moves one tonne of cargo more than 2,800km; this is more than twice as far as 20 years ago."

Friends of the Earth UK’s Head of Campaigns Mike Childs commented: "The UN study highlights the alarming growth in carbon dioxide emissions from the shipping industry. It reinforces Friends of the Earth’s call for the Government to include all the UK’s emissions - including the UK's share of emissions from international shipping and aviation - in its new climate change law. It’s ludicrous to leave them out. A bit like introducing a drink driving law that discounts whisky. We hope the Governments acknowledgement that shipping must take its share of the responsibility for tackling climate change means that they will now be included."

John Vidal is environment editor for The Guardian. © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008. All rights reserved. Reproduced with kind permission.