Low Environmental Impact
There is little if any dispute about the fact that shipping is the most carbon-efficient mode of transportation. According to a recent report of an IMO expert working group, international maritime shipping accounts for 2.7% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. And according to analysis by the Swedish Network for Transport and the Environment, shipping also produces fewer exhaust gas emissions - including nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, particulates, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide - for each ton transported one kilometer than air or road transport.
Notes of interest:
A ton of goods can be shipped from the Port of Melbourne, Australia to the Port of Long Beach, U.S.A, a distance of 12,770 kilometers (7,935 miles) while generating fewer CO2 emissions than are generated when transporting the same cargo in the U.S. by truck from Dallas to Long Beach, a distance of 2,307 kilometers (1,442 miles).
Similarly, a ton of goods can be moved from the port of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Tianjin, China, a distance of 3,327 kilometers (2,067 miles) generating fewer CO2 emissions than would be generated if the same goods were trucked from Wuhan in Central China to Tianjin, a distance of just 988 kilometers (614 miles).
The wine industry recently found that a bottle of French wine served in a New York restaurant will have a lower carbon transportation footprint than a bottle of California wine served in that restaurant.
A whitepaper released for the Transport Intelligence Europe Conference states that researchers conducting an evaluation for the World Economic Forum "found that the entire container voyage from China to Europe is equaled in CO2 emissions by about 200 kilometers of long-haul trucking in Europe. So, for most freight, which is slow moving, there is not really a green benefit to moving production to Europe."
Nevertheless, the size and global nature of the shipping industry makes it important for the industry to continuously work to reduce its environmental impact, and there is evidence that the industry has made significant progress. A recent study by Lloyd's Register found that the fuel efficiency of container ships (4500 TEU capacity) has improved 35% between 1985 and 2008. Comparison between a modern 12,000 TEU ship built in 2007 and a 1500 TEU container in 1976 shows the carbon efficiency on a per-mile cargo volume basis has improved 75% in 30 years. Learn more about what the industry does to address environmental issues.