The shipping industry may soon be forced to cut its air pollution emissions

International shipping is a case study in uncosted externalities – costs imposed on others by those who profit from an economic activity.  

While shipping generates huge amounts of revenue – $155 billion annually for the containerized shipping industry alone –  global shipping emits huge quantities of global-warming carbon dioxide (see chart below), and its other air pollution kills an estimated 60,000 people per year and costs the world as much as $300 billion annually in lung and heart disease alone.

World CO2 Emissions by Sector, IEA

Source: International Energy Agency

Huge increases in shipping and its air pollution emissions are projected in coming years. Container shipping to and from the US is projected to increase 300 percent between 2010 and 2040, and international shipping emissions  are expected to increase by 50 to 250 percent by 2050.  By that year shipping is projected to be responsible for almost a fifth of worldwide air pollution.

In spite of international shipping’s horrible toll on human health and global warming, and its growing threat, the shipping industry and many of the nations that support it have thus far successfully fought efforts to cut air pollution emissions.  Thanks to the recalcitrance of the U.N. International Maritime Organization, the Paris climate agreement included no caps on shipping emissions.

The problem isn’t technological.  During the economic slump after 2006, one major shipping fleet cut their CO2 emissions by 30 percent simply by running their ships more slowly.

But that may soon change. Pressure is building to force the shipping industry to set targets for capping CO2 emissions, which will affect other air pollution emissions as well.  For the latest on these developments, see the references below.

Experts Say Shipping, Aviation Emissions Must Peak Soon to Achieve Paris Goals, UN Climate Change Newsroom

Can the shipping industry cut its own emissions?, Deutsche Welle 

After Paris, A Move to Rein In Emissions by Ships and Planes, Yale University Environment 360

Transport Emissions Must Peak Soon to Hit Paris Targets, Environment News Service