Cargo shipping and environment

Cargo ships are the most efficient means of transportation worldwide. Over 90% of world trade is being transported by sea. Thus shipping not only plays a key role with regard to global logistics of goods, but also concerning the consumption of energy resources and the emission of climate-damaging gases and consequently contributes significantly to the pollution of our environment. Maritime shipping, with its output of over 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, is responsible for over 3% of worldwide CO2 emissions (ca. 31 billion tons in 2007)1.

CO2 emissions from shipping in comparison, Source: Oceana

The greatest environmental problem facing maritime shipping is that 90% of ship diesel engines burn comparatively cheap heavy fuel that contains a lot of pollutants. This low-quality heavy fuel is a viscous substance and a residual waste product of petroleum distillation.

In addition to CO2, the burning of heavy fuel produces mostly nitrogen oxides (NOx). Nitrogen oxides react with hydrocarbons (CnHm) in sunlight to form ozone and can lead to smog. Sulfur oxides can exacerbate respiratory disorders and are considered one of the contributing causes of acid rain. Ozone causes respiratory problems in humans and damages plant life.

A special expert opinion prepared in 2002 by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) reaches the conclusion: Global shipping traffic is responsible for approximately 7% of all SO2 and 11-12% of all NOx emissions.



1: Second IMO (International Maritime Organization) GHG Study 2009; International Maritime Organization London, UK