15 of the largest cargo ships in the world create more emissions than all 750 million cars in the world
Cargo ships are one of the most common methods of transportation for goods all over the world. Every day millions of the clothes, tech, and toys that fill the shelves in shopping centers are shipped across the oceans. In fact, about nine out of 10 items are shipped halfway around the world on board some of the biggest and dirtiest machines on the planet. These cargo ships are some of the worst polluters known to man and are contributing to global warming far more than anything else is.
How bad are these cargo ships?
It has been estimated that just one of these container ships, which is roughly the same length of around six football pitches, can produce the same amount of pollution as 50 million cars. The emissions from just fifteen of these ships equal that produced from all the cars in the world. Furthermore, if the shipping industry were a country, it would be ranked the sixth-largest contributor to global CO2 emissions. Most of the pollution occurs far out at sea, far away from the sight and minds of consumers, as well as out of the reach of any government. However, an alliance is beginning to form between industry organizations, environmentalists, and researchers in an attempt to do something about the emissions.
What are they trying to do?
To start with, the goals of the alliance are to encourage ships to sail at slower speeds so as to reduce emissions, to persuade owners to share data with each other to encourage efficiency, and even to help shipping companies find new ways to make money in the low-carbon economy. The goal here is to do away altogether with the need to burn oil to transport goods overseas. There are a number of projects in place to replace these oil-burning ships. For example, Smart Green Shipping Alliance and the Carbon War Room want ships to be propelled by renewable energy that produces little in the way of CO2 emissions. This would greatly benefit the environment and severely reduce the emissions produced by cargo ships.
Can’t the governments do something about this?
While many may think that this is the problem of government organizations, there are a number of issues there which means that technically, it's no one's problem in particular. Similar to aviation and the skies, shipping isn’t covered by the Paris Agreement on climate change because of the international nature of the industry. Although the Paris deal aims to limit the global temperature rise to below 2°C this century by reducing emissions, the high seas are a global commons and aren't covered by the agreement.
There is one organization that has some jurisdiction. It is, in fact, the job of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to negotiate a reduction in emissions from the shipping industry. Environmentalists blame the organization for the industry’s slow response. For some cold hard figures, international shipping produces nearly one billion tons of CO2 emissions every year, which is equal to about 2 to 3 percent of the total emissions caused by man. These figures need to decrease pretty significantly soon or there will be a big issue for the Earth. More ships are carrying more goods and increasing speed of travel which in turn is increasing the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. While the industry is very aware of the issue that they're causing and what needs to be done, they aren't doing much about it and what they are doing, they're taking a very long time to do it. It's just too little being done over too long a period of time.
What does the future hold?
Many activists are striving for a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050. While this may seem like a lot, a good chunk of the reductions needed in emissions from shipping could be achieved simply by the ships slowing down. Setting speed limits would actually reduce the emissions by up to 12% by 2030. This could actually be achieved without the need for new technology or retrofitting, just quite simply setting some speed limits.
Technology could also help take out another 20-30%. For example, onboard carbon capture and storage could help shipping companies to meet emission targets quite easily because their vessels won’t need extensive alterations. This could be a good option for the industry as it wouldn't destroy profits too much but at the same time, it would make a huge difference to the emissions.
In addition to this, alternative power sources should be explored. For example, electric-powered ships could be a good option on short trips, not so much on longer journeys across an ocean though. Current electric cargo ships can travel about fifty miles on one charge. With time though, better ships could be developed and then they could travel further distances.