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December 16, 2009

Global Shipping: More CO2 Than Germany

This is the ninth post from our team in Copenhagen. Check out the rest of the posts here. – Emily

Oceana has been working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the global shipping industry for three reasons. One, the industry is a major source of emissions — over a billion tons of carbon dioxide per year — which is more than what is released annually by Germany, the sixth ranked country in the world. 

Two, these emissions are completely unregulated: They were not controlled by the Kyoto Protocol and no country regulates them. And to top it off, there are excellent operational changes and technical changes that ships can make that could substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions as much as 75% — some of which can be done at no cost, or with a very short payback period.   

But to get these carbon-cutting measures more widely adopted we will need either international requirements, or at least some action by individual countries. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the UN Agency that is responsible for making this happen. IMO was given the job 12 years ago, and still, it has not taken action. 

Many believe that the United Nations should take the job back, or at least give the IMO a target and a deadline for getting the job done. We hoped that they would do that as part of the “Copenhagen Agreement.”  

Here in the final days of the historic Copenhagen meeting, optimism is in short supply, both for shipping and for the broader global climate deal. There are many complex issues serving as stumbling blocks standing in the way of agreement. 

In the case of shipping, countries that register most of the ships, like the Bahamas, don’t seem to want to have specific direction given to IMO. They will take their chances with the process as it is, which so far has produced nothing – and perhaps that is their goal. Sadly, the United States does not appear to be a leader in getting clear goals from the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) either. The European Union seems to be the most positive player, but alone it can’t achieve the desired outcome.  

There are still a couple days left, and hopefully the situation will turn around both for ships and for the agreement as a whole.  Otherwise shipping emissions will gradually become a larger and larger component of the overall climate problem, while other sources are being brought under control.