The Push for Reduced Maritime Carbon Emissions

Posted by Nicole Schill on Nov 17, 2016 9:32:00 AM

Maritime efficiency is a hot topic in the United Nations’ and European Commission’s strategies to reduce human impact on climate change. The European Commission reports that marine transport is only responsible for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so why the push to reduce ship emissions?

Carbon dioxide emissions in general are a major factor in the ensemble of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming. Carbon dioxide holds on to heat and then hangs out in our atmosphere raising the temperature of the Earth far more than nature intended. Although the Earth’s flora is equipped to decontaminate the atmosphere from naturally occurring carbon dioxide emissions from sources such as animals, soil, and the ocean, humans have increased the production of carbon dioxide to the point that nature can’t keep up.  

The current reality of carbon dioxide emissions, according the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, is that is that we are on course to raise the temperature of the Earth by 3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century leading to negative effects worldwide on crop yields, glaciers, and sea levels.

Maritime freight is expected to rise with international economic growth, and because it is deemed one of the most environmentally-friendly forms of shipping, the 2.5% global carbon dioxide emissions contribution is deemed too high. The United Nations’ Paris Agreement, which was recently signed by 175 countries, agrees to reduce the estimated 3-degree global temperature increase to below 2 degrees, and emphasizes the necessity for green shipping strategies.


Marine shipping is the most carbon-efficient mode of freight transportation, trailing well behind air, train, and vehicle transport, so the question as to why it is being singled-out to reduce that small percentage at all is an interesting one. Perhaps it is because, up until recently, there have been no international regulations concentrated on this task making it ripe for the picking, and because the expectations to reduce maritime transport carbon emissions are reasonable.

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) has enforced a 2-tier regulatory commitment to reduce maritime greenhouse gas emissions globally. The first tier is dedication to innovative fuel-efficient ship design, and the second is regulated fuel-usage on a per-ship basis. Stringent regulations are expected to be mandatory by March 1, 2018.

Innovative ship design to accommodate both increased weight and volume for transport is the easy part. Tracking an individual ship’s fuel usage and aggregating that information in an annual report to be submitted by each ship’s country of origin to the IMO Ship Fuel Oil Consumption Database could prove to be challenging. 

exactEarth Satellite AIS technology will continue to assist maritime shipping business by providing fuel-efficient planning tools. Upcoming launches for 58 more satellites in orbit by 2018 will provide customers with real-time, continuous global vessel monitoring which will allow ships to respond proactively to maintain allotted fuel consumption when pre-planned routes are interrupted. MEPC’s next meeting on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is expected to take place in mid-2017.

Check out a really cool map our friends at UCL built to show the global merchant fleet over the course of 2012, overlaid on a bathymetric map with a counter for emitted CO2 (in thousand tonnes) and maximum freight carried by represented vessels (varying units). 


Topics: IMO, ocean environment, ship emissions, monitoring ship emissions, ship fuel consumption

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