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New Joint Research Centre Reference Report sets out options for reducing emissions from shipping

A new report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) provides a comprehensive overview of methodologies for estimating air emissions from shipping; describes technological solutions; and analyses policy options for reducing carbon emissions and air pollution in this sector.

This new JRC Reference Report contributes to raising awareness of the environmental impacts, including on health, of world-wide shipping. It analyses the methodological issues raised within the scientific community about assessing the impacts of the maritime sector on the environment, and identifies shortcomings in reliable and comprehensive sources of information. A detailed assessment of the cost efficiency and abatement potential of each technological option described in the report is also provided.

Maritime transport causes about 4% of global man-made CO2 emissions—making its carbon footprint approximately as high as Germany’s. At present, around 50,000 merchant ships transport 90% of global goods and make maritime transport indispensable for the world economy. Although maritime transport has the lowest ratio of CO2 emissions per ton-kilometer transported compared to other modes of transport, its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are expected to increase from the current level of around 1 gigatonne per year, by an estimated 150-200% over the next four decades.

The shipping sector is also a source of air pollution. Unless measures are taken, air pollution over the main shipping routes will increase due to an estimated 10-20% rise in sulphur dioxide emissions in the next two years. Marine fuel oil has a very high sulphur content which ranges from a global average of 27,000 ppm (parts per million) to 10,000 ppm in Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs). However, with the new agreement in IMO ships in the Baltic and North Sea SECAS will have to use fuel with only 0.1% of Sulphur content by 2015, as is already the case in the EU ports due to EU legislation.

There is significant potential for abating emissions from the shipping sector. Technical solutions to reduce fuel consumption, air pollutants and greenhouse gases are readily available and range from better ship design, propulsion and machinery to optimized operation.

To achieve significant improvements in the reduction of carbon emissions and air pollution, technological (fuel- and engine-related) solutions should be supplemented with other measures. Market-based options addressing both regional and global measures must also be investigated. The report analyses how the introduction of market-based policies, such as a GHG Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) for the shipping sector at international level, could be used.

The complexity of air pollution and climate change policies for the international maritime transport sector calls for a wide range of considerations to be taken into account requiring policymakers: 1) to set binding long-term emission reduction goals, 2) to take action in a flexible manner, 3) to ensure knowledge and technology sharing of innovative practices, and 4) transparency, administrative feasibility.

...Our results show that, because of the high level of uncertainty in air emissions estimations, further research is required in this field. In fact, a scientific debate is still open on the most appropriate way to estimate air emissions. The scarce or limited availability of data concerning maritime transport activities has resulted in the widespread use of different calculation methodologies. In addition, the application of new technologies which enable more detailed traffic data acquisition puts further into question the usefulness of the methodologies proposed so far.

...Moreover, the environmental impacts of maritime transport are also related to the growth rate of trade, which makes the problem even more pressing. This aspect is related to the intensive nature of production and consumption of goods and services, which have been stimulated by several factors such as the new global dimension of modern production and consumption which has re-shaped European and world trade, and the use of just-in-time techniques which allow manufacturers and wholesalers/retailers to dispense with warehouses. These issues call for the integration of any environmental strategy to regulate air emissions from ships into a broader framework which includes all the pillars of sustainable transport.

—JRC Reference Report

JRC Reference Reports represent a JRC view on a subject for which the JRC has recognized expertise. They provide a reference for political decision-makers, the research community, stakeholders and an informed but non-specialist audience. JRC Reference Reports aim to establish the current state of knowledge in specific areas of scientific investigations or in policy assessments.

The legal position on shipping emissions. The Europe 2020 Strategy includes, as a headline target for 2020, the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% compared to 1990 levels or by 30%, if the conditions are right. The scope of this commitment is set out in the EU’s climate and energy legislation. According to this legislation, all sectors of the economy should contribute to achieving these emission reductions, including international maritime shipping and aviation. In the event that no international agreement which includes international maritime emissions in its reduction targets has been approved by the Community by 2011, the Commission should include international maritime emissions in the Community reduction commitment, with the aim of the proposed act entering into force by 2013.




We recently spent 7 days at sea in an area where very large ships go. Surprised to see how much brown*black very large smoke clouds some of those ships left behind.


One of the worse one was a very large new 220,000 tonnes 6000-passenger monster.

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