Carbon dioxide emissions produced by UK shipping could be up to six times higher than currently calculated, according to new research. The study argues that the global shipping industry, despite being traditionally viewed as one of the most energy efficient means of transport, releases increasing amounts of harmful emissions into the atmosphere every year. The report says that if the global shipping industry’s carbon emissions continue at current rates of growth then by 2050 they could account for almost all of the world’s ‘safe’ level of emissions (assuming efforts were made to keep temperatures to below 2°C.
This new report refocuses attention from the global efforts to reduce shipping emissions down to a national scale, and questions if the UK has a role in influencing its share of the CO2 emissions produced.
The dramatic change in the estimate of CO2 from UK shipping is based on the fact that, up until now, the UK’s emissions are calculated using international bunker fuel sales – that is fuel purchased at UK ports. But, according to the report, this is a misleading statistic as the majority of vessels refuel at nearby ports, such as Rotterdam in Holland, where prices are more competitive.
The study argues that the level of CO2 emissions released by commercial ships involved with UK trade (ie those involved in shipping goods to or from the UK) provides a fairer representation of UK shipping emissions than fuel sold. If this representation were to be adopted, the UK’s CO2 emissions allocated to shipping would increase significantly – and possibly to a higher level than the amount of CO2 released by UK aviation.
Greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping activity currently account for around 3% of total global emissions. On the basis of its international bunker fuel sales, UK international shipping emissions for 2006 were around seven megatonnes of carbon dioxide (7 MtCO2). However when the report quantifies emissions from ships involved in exporting goods from the UK it finds that UK emissions from shipping rise considerably to 31 MtCO2. When emissions from shipping imports are calculated this is higher still at 42 MtCO2
The report also examines the role the shipping sector should play in overall emissions reduction. To have a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, global emissions must fall steeply out to 2050. The report suggests that the UK should, in advance of EU or global action, consider a unilateral adjustment to its carbon budgets to reflect its share of international shipping emissions. It concludes that action is required in both the short and medium-term to significantly reduce shipping emissions below projected levels.
An international deal to control shipping emissions is currently under discussion at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). However, progress on this issue has been slow and the European Union has announced that it will take action at an EU level to limit international shipping emissions if the IMO has not agreed a deal by the end of 2011.
The report was produced by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the University of Manchester’s Sustainable Consumption Institute and is entitled Shipping and climate change: Scope for unilateral action. You can download the press release and the report itself here.