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back to article Ships pollute more than planes

Ships pump out twice as much carbon dioxide as planes, according to new figures from the maritime industry body Intertanko. The body also warns that the industry should brace itself for the attentions of various governments. Bill Box, from Intertanko, told the Independent newspaper: "Shipping has not yet been regulated and for …

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Per what?

I'd love to see a comparison of CO2 per ton of cargo carried (passengers count as cargo, anyone that's traveled EasyJet will tell you). I don't think ships would do too badly in that context. Of course, it is the absolute amount that matters to the atmosphere but you just know figures like this will be used by the airlines to lobby for a right to pollute.

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IT Angle

well

so what? Until someone makes a teleporter you have to move shit from point a to point b.

Envirotards would much prefer we all drop into a recission and die in caves. But then they're not human anyway.

O and - IT? lol

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"mile for mile, shipping is still much more efficient"

... yet the headline reads "Ships pollute more than planes".

A remarkably misleading headline.

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Yes but easier to reduce than air transport fuel

Ships are inherently large, slow and heavy, making the kind of sustainable energy engineering to eliminate fossil fuel use in this mode of transport easier than in road or air transport. Air transport will be the most difficult form of transport to make sustainable, due to the very high power to weight ratios required. Also, I think the energy required by sea transport rises approximately by the square of the speed, so there are very good trade offs achievable by making ships go a bit slower.

Unfortunately international forms of transport will be politically much more difficult to make sustainable than national forms. This is due to the difficulty of negotiating treaties required to regulate international transport in theory, with unfair advantages being obtainable by nations pretending to regulate in line with treaty obligations but not doing so rigorously in practice. By comparison, obtaining and enforcing national legislation in connection with national transport is relatively easily achieved.

Fortunately the movements of ships can be observed quite accurately and independently, so treaty obligations limiting shipping fuel use and backed up with suitable sanctions, once in effect could be observed with a degree of independence.

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Mars

What about the real dangerous gases ?

I find it funny that articles like this and our goverment all concentrate on the CO2 gas. Carbon dioxide as we all learnt in school is used by plants to make them grow. So if you've got an excess of co2 plant more trees.

But what about the more dangerous gases - like methane, Carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide which ARE NOT used by plants?

Don't concentrate on the co2 concentrate on the other gases.

Also as a more relevant point, the sea and its organisms are responsible for using more co2 than the plants on the land. So if you're in the middle of a big sea that eats co2 - is co2 output really that significant ?

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Anonymous Coward

That's the answer!

Dammit, it's been staring us in the face all the time.

Forget about taxing petrol to death, taxing chelsea tractors, air flights. Get these sodding great polluters off the high seas and you've saved the planet. Well, until they can build enough pipelines to replace the capacity.

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Happy

Running on empty

And what's worse, half of them are ferrying empty containers back to China so the Chinese can refill them with plastic ducks or whatever. As a result, the cost of shipping a 30ft (how many grapefruits is that?) container full of whatever takes your fancy from Europe to China is < 90 euros.

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so does this mean...

I shouldn't use my flying boat for the school run?

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Stop

complete confused nonsense

This article has no validity shipping is very efficient as is so whats the point of bothering about it the only low hanging fruit that I know of is the personal auto everything else has a reason everything else is required until you take most of the personal single occupant vehicles off the road you aren't doing anything significant.

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Stupid Meetings and Salesmen

Using this line of logic lets cancel all the Tourist Trade. All those worthless idiots running around in their jets scurrying to exotic lands and trying to sell their wares. Let them just stay at home and look at the Internet. Havent they ever heard of a net meeting?

While we are at it list ban all automobiles. Should be able to just use sail boats.

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Paris Hilton

@Robert

I find EasyJet treat passengers worse than cargo. Last time they threw us all in the hold and put the bags in seats.

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Anonymous Coward

Second rule of Reg Club

No one will take you seriously if you don't use punctuation.

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Anonymous Coward

Yes, but...

Ships will benefit from global warming. As sea level rises much of the land-mass which is current inaccessible to them will become coastline, hence making them a much more efficient form of transport.

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Gold badge

How you gonna move the oil for the planes?

Do away with shipping and you get no oil to refine into fuel. So planes are reliant on ships.

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Point, missing the

First off, boats do polute more than planes but the real reason we should be worried is that boat fumes are really dirty. They make the number 5 bus look like a Prius.

Second, planes are still the ones to worry about. The theory goes that plane travel is increasing at such a ferocious rate that unless we get a grip on it now we'll be screwed by the time it actually is a problem.

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Correlary of 2nd rule

No-one posting as an Anonymous Coward may be reasonable and/or correct.

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Boffin

it get's worse still though...

Ships produce noise which whales can hear in oceans all over the world, they can normally communicate over that distance with a sound pattern mathematically equivalent to a language.

So they get all confused with this aircraft carrier, sub or battleship or leisure cruise vessal, yachts etc.

Then they get washed up on beaches and up rivers and become news for a day.

There is also said to be purple or orange acidic and highly toxic prehistoric age sea fungi that grow on raw sewage dumped by US states, while Brazil and China destroy major world resources and dump mercury into rivers and toxic chemicals into rivers once used as water supplies; China even screwed over Russian water.

They then allow a gargantuan South American continent sized aquifier to be run under US management, who are eager to supply to water strained southern US states.

The Brazilians use what clean water they have and destroy savannah and amazon forest to produce soy beans and sugarcane for biofuel and ethanol (which Europe says saves the environment) and also supply China. A big demand there.

Lula recently went to Africa to promote the above products there.

Oh and we have 500.000 immigrants a year likely to keep on a comin' to our shores because they've joined the EU, and we need more houses and less greenbelt.

Plenty of food to go around then? Well yes, although British farmers have it tough, we import lots of fruit, veg, canned food and other products.

Including hand creams allegedly containing extracts of whale blubber.

Looped this list nicely didn't I?

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Coat

@ anon

3rd rule of Reg Club:

Thou shalt not post a comment on the wrong story.

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Anonymous Coward

@Chris Miller

1595 gf

.. what? Am I the only one who complies with El Reg rules?

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Silver badge

@Michael

You forgot to mention Friends Of The Earth

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Solution:

If commercial ships were powered by nuclear reactors, they'd generator no carbon output, require no fossil fuels, and could be made larger, so fewer ships could haul the same amount of cargo.

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Pirate

@Solution - Lathem

...and spend all thier time at anchor because the'd be banned from every port.

Widespread civil use of nuclear power can only happen once all the evil and/or stupid people have been eliminated. Of course if you eliminated all the evil and stupid people, the dozen or so people left won't really need nuclear power.

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@Lathem Gibson

How many James Bond ripoffs have been done starting with some generic evil group hijacking a generic nuclear object on some generic ocean going vessel?

Not that I am opposed to nuclear powered vessels (or wessels, keptin).. I have always considered myself to be a pro-nuclear-greenie, from long before it became fashionable.

But the Powers that Be will probably be more influenced by the Bond movies.

Larger ships arent necessarily a good thing, even todays large ships cause damage to the environment - although fewer, larger ships may balance the harm. Large ships are restricted by the facilities they can use, and the requirements of actually getting a worthwhile load of cargo to pay its costs.

Something I would 'love' to see, is high tech sailing cargo ships.. like the ones with vertical aeroplane wings for sails (vague memory).

As always, there is no one, single, fits-all-situations solution. Therefore a range of technologies and options need to be developed, and applied as appropriate.

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There is one difference though

I can't help but feel that the fact that planes deposit their CO2 high up in the sky makes for a major difference in effect.

Ships may be numerous and stinky, but their CO2 has to climb up. That difference must be important somehow.

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Paris Hilton

I have a theory

If there are 90,000 really big ships on the oceans

Can anyone tell me how much sea level would drop if they

were all taken out of the water??

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It never ends.....

CO2 levels will neverf be solved by cutting back - ever! The world economy is growing fast, and cutting a little off everything will only slow it down, it wont fall. Goverments have to get to gether and invent new technology or its just not worth it. Even if the UK just switched off everything for ever, we'd still be stuffed. It has to be a world solution with new tech, or we should all just go home and wait for the earth to kill us all.

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Silver badge

First, fix the one with the lowest cost per beneficial global warming impact

Why spend quadrillions of dollars fixing cars and airplanes (hint: ain't going to happen quickly), when for perhaps a measly few hundreds of billions we could fix the cement industry, livestock, Bunker C / shipping, methane from landfills, etc.

Doesn't it make sense to do something easy to start?

We need some pie charts please and thank you:

1) Source of all global warming gases (man-made vice natural sources), just for info

2) Man-made gases weighted by their global warming impact (not just CO2)

3) Broken down by sector (agriculture), and subsector (livestock)

4) Marginal cost to reduce per net beneficial global warming impact

Then address the cheapest subsector first. Don't even talk about anything not in the Top 10.

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Joke

Bill Box

Who can take what he says seriously with a name like that?

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Unhappy

And this means what?

"Ships pump out twice as much carbon dioxide as planes, according to new figures from the maritime industry body Intertanko."

Gotta say, this pisses me right off when readers are left to make assumptions and speculate on at best shoddy information with no real context and no level of relevance.

OK let me pose some questions:

1) How much CO2 does a plane put out so I can work out the the relevance?

2) How does this compare to say a 4x4, a normal car and a 500cc motor bike?

3) On an average day what is the average amount of ships on the sea?

4) On an average day how many planes are in the air?

I may be wrong but don't ships run on diesel which has inherantly low emmisions? Don't planes run on really high octane full which has enormouse emmissions?

I may be having a bad day but this article means absolutely nothing to me and allows me to quantify nothing!

Last point, what is this - an attempt by the industry to tell us boats bad, planes good - give the planes all your business? Governments must get more revenue from the planes and its easier to tax.

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Stop

Alternative power for ships ...

Errr, haven't we been here before? The oceans are alive with all the power necessary, on a windy day. Perhaps we should put Jack Sparrow in charge of shipping.

It may not be popular with the large corporations but surely if there were smaller but more sail cargo ships there could be created a "conveyor belt" of ocean transport for goods. It only takes some inventive thinking to come up with a viable paradigm. Almost at a stroke, then, the supposed problem of these highly polluting ships will be taken out of the equation.

But then this is all supposing that the unproven religion ^H^H^H^H^H^H case for CO2 and Global Warming correlation is true. Which to date has not been made. Instead any and all discussion outside of the new world religion is met with the zealots howling at the moon with their usual rhetoric. What is truly amazing is that this religious zeal spans nations and governments from the top of the tree down to the lowliest monkey on the ground.

I am in awe of how this lie has come to be so believed on such a global scale. Truly the gates of Hades are wide open, to be equally melodramatic.

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Aha!

"the cost of shipping a 30ft (how many grapefruits is that?) container full of whatever takes your fancy from Europe to China is < 90 euros"

No need to ship grapefruits to China (why would anybody want to do that anyway?). Lets use that spare capacity to ship out some of the surplus population.

If London had only two thirds of its population, there would be a lot less traffic jams and that would probably reduce pollution and energy consumption by more than most of the other plans put together.

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@ The Sceptic

The Skeptic wrote something like: "I may be wrong but don't ships run on diesel which has inherently low emissions? Don't planes run on really high octane full which has enormous emissions?"

You're wrong; and your spelling (corrected above) is atrocious.

Ships run on something called Bunker C (or similar). This is the garbage that's left when everything else has been refined off. It's actually cheaper than crude oil because it's more-or-less a waste product.

The noxious emissions (good old 1960s style "air pollution") from ships are incredible. Be advised that these emissions ALSO HAVE A SIGNIFICANT GREENHOUSE EFFECT. NOx is something like 200 times worse than CO2, and MUCH easier to clean up. My car's NOx emissions are basically ZERO (according to the smog test report).

Diesel engines are NOT inherently low emissions. Ask Mercedes Benz; they been busting their butt for decades trying to make their diesel cars as clean as gasoline cars. They're getting there - just now. Didn't you wonder why California banned diesel cars up to now? Because they pollute so much in spite of their better fuel economy.

Modern aircraft engines are quite clean and getting cleaner. They're high tech; whereas many ships are horrid old smoldering slag heaps of 50-year-old low tech.

Ships represent 'low hanging fruit'. VERY easy to fix with a huge beneficial impact.

If "They" don't address ships and dirty Bunker C, then They're not serious.

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Jobs Horns

Yep

By Pascal Monett

Posted Saturday 20th October 2007 08:54 GMT

I can't help but feel that the fact that planes deposit their CO2 high up in the sky makes for a major difference in effect.

Ships may be numerous and stinky, but their CO2 has to climb up. That difference must be important somehow.

You're right; we get acid rain. Also raw sewage off some coasts who say that they are going to introduce biofuels and ethanol to cut carbon (CO2) emmisions.

Nice one.

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His Noodlyness

It's our own fault for killing off the Pirates, we made His noodlyness angry so he's cooking the planet.

We all need to bunk off work on Fridays, dress in full Pirate regalia and educate those heathens. Come on who wouldn't want a beer volcano in heaven?

PS: There needs to be a FSM icon.

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Boffin

bilge water stats

whilst i've no doubt that shipping as a whole is a massive contributor to global greenhouse gases this "twice as bad as planes" statistic is clearly arse. the best I could find after an exhaustive 30 sec search was 0.8320 kg per ton /mile for aircraft and 0.0146 kg per ton / mile for a ship in terms of co2.

it's really a question of scale. like comparing total global emissions of farts generated by curries against coal fired power stations... although, on second thoughts...

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Flame

the new bio-fuel

why not use soylent green as a bio fuel?

or, for those who don't know what SG is...

there are too many people on the planet. Lets use all the vegans, vegetarians and eco-warriors as bio-fuel first, and then the chavs (plentiful supply of the latter).

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Thumb Up

age and efficiency

The major difference between the airlines and the shipping industry is age and efficiency. OK the aircraft industry isnt as efficient, but what they release also isnt as polluting. On top of this, no airline in the world operates aircraft more then 25 years old (except for the REALLY dodgy ones!) and airlines routinely upgrade to the newest aircraft which means they are making incremental steps to improve their efficiency.

The shipping industry however, have not made any attempts to upgrade and most ships on the high seas are 25-50 years old & with today's ability to conduct maintenance to extend life of product those ships will continue to operate basically until they fall apart (usually with a big environmental disaster accompanied).

The real point being raised by the authors of this article is that it is a very simple process to upgrade existing ships to reduce their emissions by a substantial quantity. Whilst on the other hand, the aircraft manufacturers are already working towards reducing emissions.

And for those people saying that the airline industry is the one that should be making more progress, i say - just because a company makes an SUV more efficient doesnt mean the hatchback makers shouldnt also be trying to become more efficient! Both industries need to work harder to clean up!

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@Solution - Lathem

There is a limit on how big they can make ships - the Panama Canal.

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Coat

@Paul

I'm a fan of the SG idea. The marketing opportunities write themselves;

For the discerning new foodie, wagyu vegan, guaranteed organic.

And of course McDonalds gets the Big Chav franchise. Which has a delightfully elegant symmetry on the 'you are what you eat' front.

C>D>T

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Re:@Chris Miller

"1595 gf.. what? Am I the only one who complies with El Reg rules"

Hmmm, assuming a 30x10x10 container, that's 3000 cubic feet or:

162,243 grapefruits

147,493 bulgarian-airbags

49,615 bulgarian-funbags

14,656 footballs

737 sheep

0.0339 olympic swimming pools

...by my calculations ^_^

Ah, "units" and "unittab", where would we be without them.

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IT Angle

@ Charles Hammond

I feel I must take this opportunity to highlight your satire & agree that to simply dismiss any industry is used more as a method of circumvention in regards to resolving issues with no real positive outcome.

I spent a year working for a Scottish Port Authority which also included setting up a PDA system to assist with internal communications for senior managers\directors\CEO etc..and was a little overcome to say the least by the level of effort and time which goes into running such organisations.

I think an aspect often overlooked by Joe Public is that commerce for such organisations is by its very nature global and legislation must exist which allows business as usual for all parties in all countries.

On a more positive note, this may be a starting point for discussion on the matter although I do think any type of legislation would be impossible to police as there are so many countries outside the EU umbrella.

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@Philip Brown

"There is a limit on how big they can make ships - the Panama Canal."

Isn't that why they're starting a huge project to widen it?

Anyway, why not try a variant of the UAVs that the US military keep crashing in deserts? Redesign containers to have a point on the front, stick an automated sail on them, and just launch each one separately. Most of them would get to where they're going, which is already true of current methods, and the ones that went astray would wash probably up somewhere useful anyway.

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Nuclear ships

Time to look into civilian nuclear ships again, perhaps?

The first time rounds, there were pretty uneconomical, but things have improved since; Toshiba, for instance, is marketing a small, minimal-maintenance nuclear reactor for use in remote low-population areas.

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Boffin

Economies of scale...

Alternative energy can most certainly work for ocean-borne cargo. Problem is that sailing vessels require moderately large crews of well-trained sailors, as opposed to moderately small crews of less specialized sailors with a salting of specialists thrown in. Up to WWII, sailing vessels could still compete, albeit at a low level, for bulk cargo that was not time-sensitive, such as grains and the like. But WWII pretty much drained the supply of well-trained sailing sailors, grabbing them up to crew the new merchant construction. That, and the over-supply of cheap surplus Liberty ships after the war pretty much did for the small sail fleet remaining.

If you want to use sailing cargo vessels again, you're going to need to: 1) Make a lot of sailing ships, and make them as automated as possible. This means subsidies, or they won't be competitive - at least not at first. And 2) Train a lot of rigging-monkeys. This also means subsidies, until an organic demand for sail-trained sailors is sufficiently large.

Emissions controls for ships isn't a bad idea, within limits. You can't put too sharp a break on their mechanical efficiency by saddling them with extensive controls, or the cost per ton-mile will go through the roof, with attendant knock-on effects all across the globe. However, some fairly basic controls would help, and not be too odious, cost- or efficiency-wise.

Nuclear power is fine, conceptually, but most reactor designs are not only expensive, but they're also manpower intesive, which is death to cost-effectiveness. Warships don't care about cost effectivenss, and do care about range and time in transit, so nuclear power makes sense there. In commercial vessels, it's a bit more dicey, unless a truly low manpower reactor can be built. Also, a lot of places have laws restricting nuclear vessels in their ports, which would limit such a vessel's commercial flexibility.

Having been on the recieving end of more than a few lungs-full of stack gasses, I'll tell you this much though; Sailors everywhere would appreciate a cleaner exhaust.

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Coat

@Danny Thompson

Whether or not we believe in the "religion" of global warming it seems only sensible to minimise our consumption of oil:

* Many things that benefit us are made from oil.

* There's only so much oil in the world.

* When it's gone, it's gone. There won't be any more just round the corner.

* If we waste it then the oil will run out quicker.

So in the absence of new breakthrough materials to replace oil-based plastics we really shouldn't be hosing the oil about like it doesn't matter.

Just my 2p...

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Ed

CO2 mostly irrelevant

Of all of the greenhouse emissions, CO2 is apparently the most widely reported - and since it's what plants have evolved to process, the one which may be least problematic (so long as it's at land/sea level, rather than upper atmosphere.) There have been studies which have demonstrated, if you double the CO2 in a plant's environment, it'll be hardier and grow quicker, converting more CO2 to O2 + carbon compounds (it may not do double immediately, but since it's growing quicker, it will get to that point eventually, barring other constraints).

Now, ship fuel is nasty - I haven't seen studies, but I live in Boston, MA, USA, and when you're downwind of a freight ship, you know it. That having been said, if the number of units of goods doesn't change, one way to improve emissions is to use a transport method that has lower emissions per unit shipped - and that's what they're doing with all the shipping. I certainly agree that we should improve ship emissions, but I do not agree that they're an easy target.

Note that airplanes are replaced frequently partially because airplane companies make many improvements in airplane manufacture, and partially because airplane maintenance problems have a high potential (relatively speaking) of losing all hands on board. The same cannot be said for shipping.

Something I think could be useful for shipping efficiency is looking at alternative energy to power the ships - namely, solar. I doubt it'd be enough to get cargo where it needs to in a timely enough manner by itself, but a ship could use multiple power sources, and having solar be one would reduce the level of need for the other(s). (Wind would, of course, be right out, as we're hopefully moving faster than the wind, therefore thermodynamic laws state that wind would be a loss...)

Hydroplaning cargo ships sounds like an enticing possibility, but I suspect that one couldn't get sufficient speed efficiently enough while carrying the amount of cargo one needs to carry to get the job done.

Of course, when all is said and done - the real problem is the lack of a FSM icon (pirate outfits would help, but the FSM icon would go a long way to encouraging pirate outfits).

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Go

Windmills

Windmill on ship, steers into wind, transfers power via transmission to propellers. If propelling *into* the wind, the windmill blades can change their angle into the wind to decrease drag. No giant sail 100 meters in front of and above the stern made of and held to the ship by exotic carbon fibers needed.

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Happy

A few words from the industry!

Recent media reports suggesting that shipping’s impact on climate change is greater than that of aviation are absurd and inaccurate. To move a tonne of cargo by air produces up to 100 times as much CO2 as moving it the same distance by sea. Modern ships can emit as little as five grams of CO2 per tonne-kilometre compared to about 50 grams per tonne-kilometre for a heavy truck or 540 grams per tonne-kilometre for a modern aeroplane. No one can seriously dispute that shipping is by far the most efficient way to transport goods in terms of CO2 emissions. The more freight moved by sea rather than other modes the better it will be for the environment

To compare total outputs of CO2 is even more absurd. Shipping carries 90% of world trade and 95% of UK trade – it is a vastly bigger industry than aviation and performs a completely different role – it’s a bit like comparing all lorry emissions to those from motor scooters. The well-established multiplier effect of emissions at high altitude also makes comparisons difficult and controversial.

The UK is at the forefront of developments to reduce the shipping industry’s environmental footprint – UK ships are the some of the cleanest, greenest, most high-tech vessels in the world and shipping companies have always sought to maximise their fuel efficiency.

Shipping has come a long way in improving its carbon performance over the last thirty years – through efficiencies of scale and technological advances. Fuel efficiencies – and therefore CO2 efficiencies – have improved dramatically.

Ships are getting bigger, allowing them to enjoy enormous economies of scale. A modern container ship emits about a quarter of the CO2 that a container ship did in the 1970s – while carrying up to ten times as many containers. The largest container ships now carry some 13,000 containers – the equivalent of 13,000 lorries not on the motorway in front of you.

The nature of the shipping industry means that CO2 reductions can’t be gained by simply reducing the scale of its operations. We could use our cars less often, take fewer flights or change to low wattage light bulbs. But could we do without food, heating or clothing? For the UK, a small country with a high population density and the fifth largest trading economy in the world, the simple truth is that the country doesn’t have the capacity to sustain its population – even at a subsistence level – without external input. Shipping isn’t just vital to our way of life; for the UK it’s vital to life itself.

Shipping demand is a direct function of the demand of world trade. As trade grows – and the trend has been and continues to be solidly upward – so too inevitably will carbon emissions from the carrier of world trade: shipping. The challenge for shipping companies is made even more difficult, because other pressures – many beyond their direct control – are also driving up ship emissions. Unfortunately, most of our other environmental responsibilities can only be met by solutions that have a negative carbon impact. High-energy ballast water treatment systems, double-hulled tankers, non-TBT paints, marine protected areas and offshore windfarms that lengthen voyages – all of these, to name but a few, increase a ship’s carbon footprint. And then there are other government actions – modal shift has the avowed aim of increasing the volume of goods carried by sea (based on a recognition that the industry is the best alternative in terms of CO2 output), which will inevitably increase total carbon emissions from ships; similarly, delays in port development approvals (perhaps on other environmental grounds) can increase CO2 emissions as ships waste fuel while waiting for berths. Our task is to accept the challenge that likely continued growth will throw at us and try to minimise its environmental impact.

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More from the industry - an important story needs some space!

The good news is that – although shipping carries 90% of the world’s trade and 95% of UK trade – it contributes, as the Stern Report shows, only 1.4% of mankind’s CO2 emissions. To base a challenge to Stern’s findings on one leaked report from a tanker shipping association (as recent articles in the Time and the Independent have done) is risky and could leave the public seriously misinformed. This is but one estimate amongst many “confidential” submissions to the UN international body that regulates the industry – the London based International Maritime Organisation.

Moreover, press reports which mix statistics and assessment of emissions of air pollutants (such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides, which have an essentially local impact) with those of CO2 (which has a global impact) confuse even more and are doubly deceptive because, while we support initiatives to reduce air pollutants such as SOx and NOx, these may have a negative effect on CO2. The proposal to move all ships to distillate fuels, for instance, would increase CO2 emissions at the refinery by about 15%. What’s more, such a policy would dramatically increase the world’s consumption of the declining remaining oil stocks. The volume of diesel able to be refined from a barrel of oil is fixed – use more diesel and you use more barrels of oil. And, given the volume of fuel consumed by shipping (more diesel would need to be produced annually than is currently consumed in the entire EU) this could have the knock-on effect of dumping massive amounts of other oil products – kerosene, jet fuel and petrol – on the market. The price of these fuels could go down, encouraging consumption and hence increasing carbon emissions…

A major EU-funded study* has shown that shipping actually has an overall global cooling effect. Currently other emissions more than balance the global warming effects of the world fleet’s CO2 emissions. This is not a cause for celebration as these other emissions, most notably sulphur and nitrogen oxides, can be damaging to health if released near to land. However, regulations to reduce these pollutants – CO2 cannot accurately be described as a pollutant since it is a clean and naturally occurring major part of the air around us – in the established risk areas of the Baltic and North Sea came into force in August this year. This is why the global industry has consistently called, through the International Chamber of Shipping, for a holistic approach to the reduction of ships’ air emissions, which should seek to balance the competing pressures in the interest of finding the greenest practical solution across the piece.

What else are shipowners doing? Newer ships with optimal hull designs and the latest propeller technologies lower carbon emissions significantly. New paints that keep the hulls free from drag caused by barnacles and other sea life offer efficiencies in the order of 10%. The latest application of weather prediction technologies allows a ship’s Master to take better account of adverse weather – a straight line through a storm is not always the most carbon-efficient route!

Better ship-handling techniques, waste heat recovery and reductions in onboard power usage can also all make a difference. Other developments, such as powering ships from shore-based power when they are in port, can also play a role – so long as that shore-based power source is more carbon-friendly than the ships’ own engines!

There is certainly no prospect in sight of any other form of transport coming anywhere near as low in carbon emissions as shipping. The growth of shipping as an alternative to any other mode of transport will continue to offer significant savings in greenhouse gas emissions – such growth offers a potent answer to the global warming effects of the transport of goods. But are absolute emissions a suitable measure for individual sectors? And what does “absolute” mean?

The industry accepts that the level of mankind’s total emissions is the key. It is reflected in the simple overall targets set by the EU of a 20% reduction by 2020, and by the UK’s Climate Change Bill of up to 32% by the same date and 60% by 2050. But many constructive environmentalist groups acknowledge equally that it is perfectly legitimate that, within an overall emissions envelope, emissions reductions in some sectors may be smaller or even go up if that can produce greater savings in output from less carbon efficient alternatives.

The industry has a further concern – the presumption that new technologies will come on stream to meet the demands of legislation as the cost of non-compliance outweighs the costs of investment in research and development. History shows that such assumptions don’t work particularly well in shipping. Take the issue of Ballast Water, where a convention that enters into force in 2009 will be simply unenforceable because the technology that was assumed to be imminent has not yet come on line.

Drivers that may hold true for land-based industries are not present in our industry for two main reasons; first, government-sponsored research into improving shipping efficiencies is virtually non-existent – and this is an area where government intervention would be beneficial. Secondly, in the present climate, the relationship between ship-owners and ship-builders is weighted in the latter’s favour. Owners specifying specific environmental benefits for their ships often face a heavy financial penalty – if they can get their ships built at all. For these reasons we are investigating the merits of calling upon the IMO to require the inclusion of a ship’s carbon performance in the development of new goal-based standards and for all future IMO legislation to include an analysis of its likely carbon impact.

Finally, a more holistic approach to the problem of climate change – looking for the best overall ways to reduce mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions, rather than a piecemeal industry-by-industry or activity-by-activity approach, should not stop at a comparison of transport modes. In this new era we need to look at overall priorities and how to achieve them for the least impact.

A good example of this is the food miles debate. We couldn’t sustain the British population without importing food, but, if we could, would that be better in terms of greenhouse gas emissions? If we focus only on the emissions from transporting food from farm to shop it would seem so – but this is not the only factor to consider. In June this year the government announced that it was working on a carbon calculator that manufacturers and retailers could use to label products with their full carbon footprint. This too is a complex issue, but one thing is increasingly clear – many imported products are responsible for lower total carbon dioxide emissions than the same foods produced in the UK. The low carbon footprint of shipping is significant in making this possible, allowing the relative carbon efficiency of some types of farming – for example African farming that uses little mechanised equipment, or just growing crops in season rather than in heated polytunnels – to be the main influence.

Of course we cannot know what further improvements technology will make possible over the years to come. But with the cost of fuel somewhere around one-quarter of operating costs, shipping has a very real commercial incentive to continue to optimise consumption and thus further reduce its carbon emissions.

The industry is prepared to meet its responsibilities in this challenge. In the UK, we are happy to see some form of rational global measurement or performance standard for a ship’s carbon output, perhaps in some post-Kyoto agreement. We are also committed to delivering reductions in relative emissions, to continuous improvement in the design and performance standards of new ships, and to the success of the IMO’s greenhouse gas indexing trials. We believe that, not only is a global solution the most likely to be achievable and enforceable in practice, but it is also the solution most likely to yield the most significant environmental benefits.

For this reason, it will be important for governments, both individually and in their regional groupings, to press the International Maritime Organisation to move faster and further in developing a significant carbon regime in shipping-related activity. Those states who are uncertain of the value of or are resisting progress in this area need to face up to the global challenge and to join in the endeavour to develop an agreed policy which will encourage all involved in shipping to act responsibly and swiftly.

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Boffin

@Bryan Seigneur and windmills

Actually, due to mechanical losses, sails are more efficient at most angles to the wind. It's only when sailing fairly close to the wind that windmills would be more worthwhile. Even then, sailing into the wind, it's debatable whether or not the power gained from the windmill would offset the drag involved in the physical structure of the windmills themselves. Sails, OTOH, can simply be furled and the ship can shift to conventional screws and engines. Sails have a far larger working area than a windmill that would fit on the same structure, extracting more energy from the wind, which is directly converted to ships propulsion. Windmills also have the drawback of being moving structures, making them inherently less reliable than sails.

A sail-assisted conventionally-driven hybrid is probably the way to go, if you want to maximize energy efficiency.

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