The shipping industry's emissions contributions

| 23rd August 2019
Shipping containers at port

Shipping containers at port 

The shipping industry supports our economies - and our daily lives. However, to preserve our planet, it must adopt new technologies to reduce emissions.

International shipping carries around 90 percent of the world's trade, and the majority of that is shipped by sea. Reducing shipping would jeopardize more than a million jobs in 150 countries, not to mention the cost in trade impacts.

The shipping industry is integral to our daily lives, but transporting goods from one side of the planet to the other burns a lot of fossil fuels and releases a lot of greenhouse gasses.

The industry as a whole isn't as green as it could be, but that is changing. What new technologies are emerging that are helping the shipping industry reduce their emissions?

Maritime transport alone emits more than 940 million metric tons of CO2 every year, or about 2.5% of the planet's total emissions.


The shipping industry is also growing exponentially, and if nothing changes, those emissions could increase between 50 percent and 250 percent between now and 2050. This would effectively undermine the Paris Climate Agreement, but the solution isn't as simple as reducing maritime shipping.

International shipping carries around 90 percent of the world's trade, and the majority of that is shipped by sea.

Reducing shipping would jeopardise more than a million jobs in 150 countries, not to mention the cost in trade impacts. How can the shipping industry reduce their carbon footprint without cutting back on shipments?

New technology is emerging that could provide part of the answer. Marine Emissions Sensors can continually monitor the amount of NO, NO2, SO2, and NH3 in a ship's exhaust, allowing the shipowner to make changes to comply with local and international emissions laws.

These sensors use UV absorption spectroscopy, beaming UV light into the exhaust and measuring how much the light is absorbed. From there, the ship's computer compares the readings with a library of chemical fingerprints, allowing it to determine how much of each gas is in the ship's exhaust.


This isn't a foolproof solution, but it is the first technology of it's kind. It could also pave the way for emissions scrubbers and catalytic reduction systems that could work to reduce the number of greenhouse gasses generated by these massive transport ships.

The shipping industry is an international one. There are tens of thousands of ships on the ocean at any given time, with company owners and employees from 150 countries or more. This also means that there's a lot of blame trading going on because no one wants to take responsibility for the emissions that the industry as a whole generates.

It's not as simple as holding a single owner or company to task for the emissions of their ship. A single ship can find itself attached to a dozen companies or more — the one that built it, the ones that own it and the ones that operate it.

They carry cargo for hundreds or thousands of different companies and has picked up crew in a dozen different countries from a dozen different staffing agencies.

How do you assign blame when the shipping industry is so wide and varied, and so many people have their fingers in the proverbial pie? The answer is that you can't, so you start making changes by hitting them where it hurts — in the wallet.


Money is currently the world's best motivation, and major banks are hoping that it will convince shipping companies to take steps to lower their CO2 emissions.

As of June 2019, 11 major banks have updated their borrowing criteria for shipping companies to include climate impact.

The banks are basing their new requirements on the International Maritime Organization's climate commitment. In 2019, the IMO committed to reducing their overall CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2050, and each ship's individual emissions by 40% in the same time period.

Dubbed the "Poseidon Principles" this lending framework is the first of it's kind. Together, these 11 banks represent 20 percent of the industry's financial portfolio, or roughly $100 billion. More banks are expected to join in this crusade in the next few months.

As the maritime shipping industry continues to grow, it will need more ships. These lending rules will hopefully serve to ensure that the new ships are created to be cleaner and more energy-efficient than those of the past.

The shipping industry isn't going anywhere anytime soon and is expected to continue to grow into 2050 and beyond. With new borrowing polices and new emissions technology on the horizon, we might be able to turn one of the world's biggest industries into the greenest in the next few decades.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.


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