Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping are currently double those of aviation and they are increasing almost as alarmingly.

Without urgent action to limit and reduce these emissions, shipping will have a serious impact on global warming, according to research by the industry and European academics.


Separate studies suggest that maritime carbon dioxide emissions are not only higher than previously thought, but could rise by as much as 75% in the next 15 to 20 years if world trade continues to grow and no action is taken.  The latest statistical data reveals that annual emissions from shipping range between 600 million and 800 million tonnes of CO2, or up to 5% of the global total.  This is nearly double Britain’s total emissions and more than all African countries combined.


Carbon dioxide emissions from ships do not come under the Kyoto agreement or any proposed European legislation and few studies have been made of them.  In contrast, aviation emissions have rightly been at the forefront of the climate change debate because of the sharp increase in cheap flights and the fact that so many flights are a luxury that only the richest 5% of the world can take advantage of. Shipping emissions have risen nearly as fast in the past 20 years but have been ignored by governments and environmental groups alike.  Shipping is still responsible for transporting 90% of world trade, which has doubled in 25 years. Furthermore, shipping is also responsible for massive marine pollution largely from oil tankers, as well as very high levels of soot and sulphur emissions.

Dr Rajendra Patel, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stated: ‘The shipping industry has so far escaped publicity. It has been left out of climate change discussions. I hope it will be included in the next UN agreement.’

The whole issue of shipping emissions is a stark reminder of the need to stick to the mantra ‘think global, act local’ in all our decision making, especially when purchasing food and manufactured products. This is even more important when we add in the CO2 associated with the production of our imports; with, for example, some 25% of China’s CO2 being produced during the manufacture of products exported to the West.