“This is a bold and far-reaching decision that gives a lead to the rest of the shipping world,” said Martin Watson, President of the UK Chamber of Shipping. “The UK industry recognises that shipping, which carries 80% of all world trade goods–and 90% of the UK’s trade–must make a significant contribution to the battle to reduce mankind’s carbon emissions.
“The carbon cost of carrying a ton of freight by ship is 10 times less than by road–and 100 times less than by air. Shipping is by far the most carbon-friendly transport mode. However, because so much freight is carried by sea, shipping does produce nearly three per cent of total emissions. We need to take whatever action is needed to try to limit those emissions – but without accidentally causing freight to be shifted from ships to other, less carbon-friendly forms of transport. That would be catastrophic in terms of total emissions.”
The challenge that faces the industry and legislators is that there is no effective way to include shipping in a national carbon emissions reduction process. Ships, by their very nature, move between countries (sometimes never even visiting their countries of ownership). This raises very challenging questions about the allocation of their emissions. Ships can also easily be moved between jurisdictions to avoid carbon regulation unless that regulation is applied on an international level.
Shipping is therefore one of the last significant global industries to remain outside any governmental framework for the reduction of carbon emissions. Although the UK’s Climate Change Act will bring in monitoring of (rather than setting targets for) emissions from shipping, it is not yet clear how or what measurements will be made.
What is clear is that the industry has already made significant improvements; there have been continuous increases in fuel (and therefore carbon) efficiency through economies of scale and technological advances. A modern container ship emits about a quarter of the CO2 that a container ship did in the 1970s–while carrying up to 10 times as many containers.