[photopress:air_container_ship_melissa.jpg,full,alignright]Airlines are rejoicing at the spin that is being put on a newish discovery. Ships pollute the atmosphere more than aircraft. According to a leaked UN study annual emissions from the world’s merchant fleet have already reached 1.12bn tonnes of CO2, or nearly 4.5% of all global emissions of the main greenhouse gas.
The report suggests that shipping emissions will become one of the largest single sources of man-made CO2 after cars, housing, agriculture and industry.
By comparison, the aviation industry, which has been under heavy pressure to clean up, is responsible for about 650m tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, just over half that from shipping.
The figure is highly embarrassing for the four governments, including Britain, that paid for the report.
Governments and the EU have consistently played down the climate impact of shipping, saying it is less than 2% of global emissions and failing to include shipping emissions in their national estimates for CO2 emissions.
Pressure is now expected to increase on shipowners to switch to better fuels and on the EU to include shipping in its emission trading scheme.
All of which is true. But there is a counter argument which came up in correspondence with the newspaper.
If we got rid of the ships and sent everything by air – a physical impossibility – then we would have a real disaster in that air freight produces 100 times as much CO2 per tonne kilometer.
Which would mean we would quadruple total man-made CO2 emissions.
Shipping carries 80% of world trade and is a vastly bigger industry than aviation and performs a completely different role.
To compare the two so that it suggests airlines are responsible for very little carbon emission is false and, indeed, seems almost like a PR stunt.
And shipping – as have all aircraft – already vastly improved its carbon performance through efficiencies of scale and engine consumption. Today’s container ships emit about a quarter of the CO2 that they did in the 70s – while carrying up to 10 times more cargo. No longer do we find, as John Masefield famously wrote:
- Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
- Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
- With a cargo of Tyne coal,
- Road-rails, pig-lead,
- Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
It is often difficult to find rational debate when it comes to pollution of the atmosphere.
Source: The Guardian