UK's shipping emissions six times higher than expected says new report
According to a University of Manchester study, 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.
Indeed, as the rest of the world strives to avoid dangerous
climate change, the global shipping industry’s carbon emissions
could account for almost all of the world’s emissions by 2050 if
current rates of growth - fuelled by globalisation - continue.
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.
Researchers at The University of Manchester show that the level
of CO2 emissions released by commercial ships involved with UK
trade 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
On the basis of its international bunker fuel sales, UK
international shipping emissions for 2006 were around seven
megatonnes of carbon dioxide (7 MtCO2).
Greenhouse gas emissions from
international shipping activity currently account for around 3% of
total global emissions.
However the report, prepared by researchers at the Tyndall
Centre for Climate Change Research and the Sustainable Consumption
Institute, claims it is fairer to calculate UK emissions on the
basis of shipped goods exported from or imported into the UK.
On this basis, UK emissions rise considerably to 31 or 42 MtCO2
Dr Paul Gilbert, Lecturer in Climate Change at the Tyndall
Centre for Climate Change Research, said: “Tackling climate change
requires urgent emission reductions across all sectors.
“Unfortunately up until now, global efforts to reduce shipping
emissions have been slow, and are not keeping up with the pace of
growth of the sector.
The report also examines the role the shipping sector should play
in overall emissions reduction. Dangerous climate change is
generally accepted to be an increase in global average temperature
of greater than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels.
To have a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous climate change,
global emissions must fall steeply out to 2050. Indeed, 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
An international deal to control shipping emissions is currently
under discussion at the International Maritime Organisation
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.
“This report explores the
potential for the UK to take national measures to reduce its share
of shipping emissions to complement any future global or EU
action.”John Aitken, Secretary General of
Shipping Emissions Abatement and Trading, said: “This timely and
thought-provoking report highlights many of the difficulties faced
by those interested in reducing GHG emissions from shipping.
“It is clear a global approach is most preferable. If the further
research mentioned in the report identifies an apportionment
methodology for “countries” which can be agreed upon by many nation
states, it would greatly assist the development of a global
The Tyndall Centre, created in 2000, is a distributed national
centre for research into climate change mitigation and
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