Shipping Carbon Dangers

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Back in 2007, following my trip to New Orleans, I did a podcast with my friend Damian who works down there, on the topic of emission from the shipping industry.  In case you missed that one, here’s the link.

The basic concern that led me to do that podcast was that much of the climate change talk at the time was focused on emissions from automobiles, energy producing facilities, and to some extent, air transport.  Yet so much of the world’s trade and transport is done via the sea and those massive container ships pulling into the world’s ports, day and night.  So my question for Damian was of course — What about the carbon that boats produce? Shouldn’t we be concerned?

I haven’t listened back to that podcast in about a year, but his words I still remember, the general explanation was that in comparison with other carbon emissions, the shipping industry is pretty efficient and not very polluting.

Last week Damian was the first to email me with a link to a Guardian piece entitled: Health risks of shipping pollution have been ‘underestimated’. He added his own comments about how surprised he was to hear that actually the impact of the shipping industry as a global source of pollution is actually quite significant.  Some of which can be illustrated by the numbers featured in the article:

  • The world’s biggest container ships have 109,000 horsepower engines which weigh 2,300 tons.
  • Each ship expects to operate 24hrs a day for about 280 days a year
  • There are 90,000 ocean-going cargo ships
  • Shipping is responsible for 18-30% of all the world’s nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution and 9% of the global sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution.
  • One large ship can generate about 5,000 tonnes of sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution in a year
  • 70% of all ship emissions are within 400km of land.
  • 85% of all ship pollution is in the northern hemisphere.
  • Shipping is responsible for 3.5% to 4% of all climate change emissions

Which brings me to the logical question, what are shipping companies going to do about this and/or are governments going to step up and require them to take action?

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