Cars and cargo ship emissions

This week national newspapers in the UK (and probably elsewhere in Europe) carried articles based on the environmentalist NGO Brussels-based Transport & Environment’s (T&E) latest study on the emissions from the shipping industry.

The headlines on the UK newspaper website Mail Online said “Container and cruise ships sailing to and from the UK ’emitted more carbon dioxide in 2018 than all the cars in the 17 largest cities in Britain combined’.

The claim was one of many in the new T&E report which did not single out the UK alone as it also found that 2018 shipping emissions in Finland, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden all exceeded the emissions of the cars in each country’s 10 largest cities. Some countries fared even worse as the report revealed that CO2 emitted by shipping attributed by this study to the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Latvia and Estonia in 2018 was larger than or comparable to CO2 emitted by the total national passenger car fleet in those countries.

The point being made above all was that ‘Despite the scale of their emissions, neither cargo ships or cruise liners are presently considered in the emissions reductions targets in the Paris climate agreement’.

The methodology of how the comparisons have been made have been included in part in the report although the detailed calculations for each country have not been shown.

Comparing shipping emissions to private passenger vehicles alone is hardly a fair comparison after all ships do more than carry passengers. In an island nation such as the UK they are essential for bringing in almost all of the raw materials, food and manufactured goods needed to sustain a population acknowledged to be at least 66.5million and perhaps more. As well as imports they also carry the exports that keep a large percentage of those millions in paying employment. The ships also support a fair number of people in the ports and logistics sectors and the trade that they facilitate requires finance and insurance support as well.

Another thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is that modern ships do use a lot less fuel than their counterparts of just a few years back. Yes they might be made to be a little more efficient but the progress that has been made shouldn’t be overlooked. Some 15 years ago when containerships had a third of the capacity that they do today, MAN had plans for a 14cylinder monster engine with a bore of 1080mm and an output of over 97,000kW to power the expected 10,000teu boxships that would one day be built. That engine was never built.

Today’s 23,000teu ships such as MSC Gulsun have a much smaller engine of just 66,650kW power output. That is 30% less power for more than double the cargo. Fuel consumption measured in g/kwh has reduced as well over the same period. Unfortunately, the fuel consumption per teu may not have improved quite as much because slot utilisation can be down due to drop off in trade volumes.

In contrast to the improvement in ship performance and emission reductions, emissions from vehicles are rising. This week the BBC carried a report on rising passenger vehicle emissions which said ‘The “immense” rise in sales of high-emission sports utility vehicles means they now outsell electric cars in the UK by 37 to one. As a result, overall exhaust emissions from new cars have been increasing, not declining, for the past three years, says the UK Energy Research Centre. What the situation in continental Europe may be, ShipInsight does not know but SUVs are very much in evidence in most countries that we have visited recently even in Norway where electric and hybrid sales are quite high.

The articles in the media that have been engendered by the T&E report may serve to bring more criticism of shipping, but if the critics were obliged to do without the goods that ships bring in or the economic benefits that attach, they would very soon learn that shipping is a lot more vital to their well being.

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