The environmental footprint of shipping

The shipping industry is one of the oldest and proudest in the world but it is also one that has evolved dramatically alongside our cultural, economic and environmental values. It is a 21st-century industry through and through and this is partly why it has been able to weather so many dramatic changes.

We live in an age dominated by environmental concern, with climate change very much the hot topic on the tip of every tongue and UK business alone spending £2.5 billion in 2017 on environmental protection. In such an environment, every industry is being put under the microscope. The shipping industry, however, is currently one of the cleanest of the major global industries.

Burning responsibility

Shipping account for just 3% of global emissions. Consider it accounts for around 80% of the world’s physical trade, that’s rather impressive. Indeed, it’s so responsible that it doesn’t even need to be included on the Paris Climate Agreement.

However, with demand for marine freight shipping particularly on the rise and emissions set to rise in kind by up to 250% by 2050. As a result, the International Maritime Organisation has stepped up to the plate by introducing a target to cut emissions by half in the next 30 years. This is an unprecedented move for such a major global industry and certainly sets a gold standard for others to follow.

What more can be done?

Whilst the IMO have made clear their intentions to even further decrease the environmental impact of the shipping industry, there is always more that could be done to further the cause. Environmental non-profit organisation A Sea Change feels that companies should push harder for new technology to be implemented if we are going to reach the eventual goal of ships that can completely negate their carbon footprint.

If shipping companies can set genuine targets that align with those set by the IMO and technology is properly utilised, we could potentially make emission-free shipping possible. Companies such as HMM in South Korea are setting their targets in line with the IMO and Maersk, NYK and Norden are all developing zero-emission vessels and other environmental strategies. The rest just need to catch up!

Slowing down

A recent study by Seas at Risk and Transport Environment suggests that the best way to reduce emissions is to put a speed limit on ships. If just 20% was cut then not only would greenhouses gases be reduced, but so would underwater noise and the change of whale collisions. Even more importantly it would cut black carbon emission, which will significantly help with climate warming in the Arctic.

This chimes with a report released last year by A Sea Change that claimed ships could cut their emissions by 30% just by moving slower. Of course, this will result in slowing shipping, but the industry has already proven it’s ready and willing to make serious progressive changes when called for.

Moving on

We might be hundreds of years removed from the intricate wooden ships that populated the seas when the East India company ruled the waves, but the ideals of the shipping industry remain intact.

The vessels we use now are bigger but not necessarily dirtier and as long as the industry bands together to ensure it keeps moving forward then the environmental footprint of the shipping industry could soon be erased entirely.