Each year, it is estimated that maritime transport releases around 940 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the environment and accounts for more than 2.8% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As the global demand for goods continues to rise, international shipping emissions are projected to increase between 50% up to 250% by the year 2050, a range that would inevitably prevent the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement from being fulfilled.
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Emissions in the Shipping Sector
Notably, three distinct classes of ships accounted for 55% of the total CO2 emissions released by the shipping sector. These ships include container ships, bulk carriers, and oil tankers, which contributed 23%, 19%, and 13%, respectively, of this sector’s total CO2 emissions.
Aside from CO2, black carbon (BC) contributes a considerable amount to the climate impact of shipping. BC is a short-lived climate pollutant and reducing these emissions from ships would significantly improve the climate impacts of this industry.
In addition to CO2 and BC, other pollutants that are released into the environment by the shipping industry include sulfur dioxide (SO2) nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter.
Health and Environmental Impacts of Shipping Emissions
Over a 20-year and 100-year period, BC is responsible for 21% and 7%, respectively, of the climate warming impact from ships. Comparatively, CO2 accounts for 76% and 91% of the shipping’s overall global warming effects over 20 and 100 years, respectively.
CO2 emissions are known to increase global temperatures by trapping solar energy in the atmosphere. Rising temperatures subsequently lead to climate change, which is often highlighted by rising sea levels, increased storm severity, and changes in precipitation patterns around the world.
Although BC only remains in the atmosphere for a few days or weeks, it is still considered a global environmental problem because of its ability to cause deleterious effects to both human and environmental health.
For example, the inhalation of BC has been associated with various health problems ranging from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases to cancer and birth defects. Furthermore, the ability of BC to absorb light as heat also causes this pollutant to further contribute to climate change.
The additional mentioned pollutants of the shipping sector are often released as exhaust gases that pollute coastal regions as they are released from ships. These toxic particles subsequently drift inland from the shipping route and can lead to a wide range of health hazards. Unfortunately, since most of the people who are affected by these pollutants live along developing country coastlines and ports throughout Asia, there is a lack of publicity surrounding the impact that this industry has on human health.
Efforts to Reduce Emissions by the Shipping Sector
International shipping was not included in the Paris Climate Agreement. As a result, organizations such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have developed their own strategies to reduce the environmental impact of the shipping industry. To this end, the IMO Strategy on the Reduction of GHG Emissions of Ships states that total greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping should be reduced by at least 50% from 2008 levels by the year 2050.
To date, several efforts have been made to reduce the CO2 intensity of several major classes of ships in an effort to increase their overall efficiency. Despite these efforts, total CO2 emissions from ships were still found to increase, regardless of whether the ship class became more efficient. For example, the CO2 intensity of general cargo ships reduced by 5%, however, CO2 emissions released by this class of ships still rose by 9%.
These rises are likely the result of increased distance traveled by these ships as a result of greater demand for the global shipping of goods. Therefore, the only way to effectively reduce the CO2 emissions of the shipping sector without constraining demand is to reduce the amount of CO2 that is released for every unit of transport supply.
The Cavotec Shore Power Solution
Shore power technologies allow ships that are docked at port to turn off their diesel generators and instead acquire their power from onshore supplies in order to provide electricity for onboard services.
Since the European Directive 2014/94/EU states that all ports must be equipped with the infrastructure to allow for shore power to be available by 2025, there is an urgent need to increase the installation of these technologies.
Cavotec Shore Power technologies currently power more than 650 container vessels worldwide. Cavotec has partnered with various shipping lines since the 1980s to ensure that its onboard power supply solutions can meet the operational challenges and technical requirements of even older ships. Therefore, by retrofitting vessels for Shore Power, Cavotec’s systems are highly flexible solutions that minimize the carbon footprint of ships while also ensuring the protection of these power supplies from harsh marine environmental conditions.
In addition to fitting the needs of all bulk and container vessels, Cavotec also offers a wide range of products that provide different power levels, cable lengths, and installation options for shipyards to provide shore power.
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Future Developments to Reduce Shipping Emissions
In addition to the shore power solutions and increasing the efficiency of ships, the shipping industry is looking to reduce its carbon footprint in several different ways.
Ship-to-shore data feed technology, for example, is a novel technological approach that is expected to increase the energy efficiency of ships and ultimately reduce GHG emissions. More specifically, this technology involves the installation of monitoring systems that assist ships in achieving optimum efficiency while also reducing their CO2 emissions. Recent applications of this technology found that it reduced CO2 emissions by up to 20% on a single vessel.
Another promising solution is exhaust emissions technology, which involves the capture and treatment of ship exhaust emissions, particularly sulfur pollutants.
Climate professionals also emphasize the need to modify ship operations, such as through processes such as slow steaming to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their environmental impact.
References and Further Reading
European Commission (n.d.) Reducing emissions from the shipping sector [Online] Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport/shipping_en
EIA (2020) Energy and the environment explained [Online] Available from: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/energy-and-the-environment/greenhouse-gases-and-the-climate.php.
EPA (n.d.) Black Carbon Research and Future Strategies [Online] Available from: https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2013-12/documents/black-carbon-fact-sheet_0.pdf
Financial Times. (2019) Pollution: the race to clean up the shipping industry [Online] Available from: https://www.ft.com/content/642b6b62-70ab-11e9-bf5c-6eeb837566c5
Olmer, N et al. (2017) Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Global Shipping, 2013-2015 [Online]. The ICCT. Available from: https://theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/Global-shipping-GHG-emissions-2013-2015_ICCT-Report_17102017_vF.pdf.
Cavotec. (n.d.) Shore Power solutions for ships [Online] Available from: https://www.cavotec.com/en/your-applications/ports-maritime/shore-power/shore-power-systems-for-ships
Youd, F. (2021) Guidelines and goals: Reducing shipping’s emissions [Online] Available from: https://www.ship-technology.com/features/guidelines-and-goals-reducing-shippings-emissions/