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Maritime shipping must come to grips with its CO2 emissions

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Maritime shipping is the transmission belt for the global economy, carrying 90 percent of global trade. It plays a fundamental role in the growth of the world economy. However, it is also a major contributor to global environmental change through a diversity of issues from oil spills, CO2 and other air emissions, to invasive species, disposal of hazardous material and noise. While shipping has held a reputation for being the ‘greenest’ form of transport, this is now under challenge.

Shipping shares environmental challenges with many onshore industries, but it has been late in addressing these issues. Moreover, maritime environmental protection standards on air emissions (such as particulate matter and sulfur oxides), invasive species and disposal of hazardous material are lower than in onshore industries. Finally, shipping is expected to increase CO2 and other air emissions significantly in the coming decades due to an increase in demand and long ‘life-span’ of ships.

We examine the causes for the lagging status of shipping’s environmental protection.

Shipping is inherently multi-jurisdictional and particularly ‘footloose’ due to the mobility of ships. This challenges regulation for higher environmental protection standards. Seeking to lower their costs, many ship owners ‘flag out’ (register in a different country) and many open ship registers tend to attract ship-owners with promises of low regulatory burdens.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has the authority to provide global regulatory cohesion for shipping. It has a United Nations mandate to ‘create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented.’ However, the development and adoption of IMO standards has been slow and far from universal. In response to weak IMO leadership, regions have acted unilaterally. The EC is pursuing a mandatory scheme for monitoring, reporting and verification of CO2 emissions, and the US has unilaterally regulated ballast water treatment.[...]


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