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Study finds shipping emissions in East Asia contribute to up to 37.5K premature deaths each year

A study by a team of researchers from China and the US has shown that shipping emissions in East Asia accounted for 16% of global shipping CO2 in 2013, compared to only 4–7% in 2002–2005. Further, increased emissions of traditional criteria pollutants from the shipping sector lead to large adverse health impacts, with 14,500–37,500 premature deaths per year.

The paper by the team from Tsinghua University, Duke University, NASA Goddard Institue for Space Studies and North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Emissions from ships and ports include both long- and short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP), for example, CO2, CH4 and black carb on (BC), and criteria pollutants, such as SO2, NOx and PM2.5. Attention on ships and ports has increased as seaborne trade has grown significantly in recent decades. Asia’s share of world seaborne trade reached 38.7% and 49.4% for goods loaded and unloaded in 2013, and eight of the top ten global container ports are located in East Asia, as the region continues to dominate the league table for port throughput. Shipping volume in East Asia is expected to grow in the near future, mainly due to the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road strategy, which is designed to go from China’s coast through the South China Sea to Europe via the Indian Ocean in one route, and to the South Pacific in the other.

However, the climate and air quality impacts from shipping are not well understood in this region. A full evaluation of all pollutants, including CO2, BC, CH4, and substances that cool the climate (especially sulfate, organic carbon and nitrate), is critical to understanding both short-term and long-term climate change effects. …This study provides an important regional supplement to global shipping emission studies by introducing high-quality AIS data and a ship technical specification database. In total, emissions are calculated based on 78 million hours of vessel operation, equivalent to 177 operating days for each vessel, from AIS-derived activity data in East Asia. The total number of vessels observed in 2013 in this region is 18,324.


  • Huan Liu, Mingliang Fu, Xinxin Jin, Yi Shang, Drew Shindell, Greg Faluvegi, Cary Shindell & Kebin He (2016) “Health and climate impacts of ocean-going vessels in East Asia” Nature Climate Change doi: 10.1038/nclimate3083


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