Press Release

Shipping majors profiteering from EU carbon emissions charge – study

March 26, 2024

Far from evading EU emissions charges, shipping companies appear to be profiting from them, new study shows

Shipping giants are profiteering from the EU’s carbon market (ETS), a new Transport & Environment (T&E) study shows. A sample of more than 500 journeys to and from European ports shows that in nearly 90% of cases, shipping companies are charging customers more than the actual costs of the EU ETS. In one extreme case, the Danish company Maersk will likely make more than €300,000 extra off a single voyage. T&E says port evasion – the act of circumventing the carbon market – should not be used as an excuse to scale back the ETS. Far from avoiding the ETS, shipping companies appear to be profiting from it. 

The world’s first carbon market for shipping came into force on 1 January this year. In response shipping companies have levied an ETS surcharge which is paid by the customer. In 2024, ships will only have to pay for 40% of their emissions. This increases to 70% in 2025 and 100% in 2026. 

Southern European governments have warned that the ETS will drive business away from their ports, with ships choosing to unload at nearby ports on the other side of the Mediterranean in North Africa. But T&E shows that shipping companies are unlikely to evade the ETS if they are profiting from it. 

Jacob Armstrong, shipping manager at T&E, said: “Shipping giants appear to be ripping off customers by using environmental measures as a way to charge customers more. Whether it’s disruption in the Red Sea or a new carbon price, shipping companies always win. Southern European governments are warning that the ETS will cost them business by ships evading their ports, but why would they if they’re making money from it?”

T&E’s investigation looked at 565 journeys from 20 different ships from each of Europe’s four biggest shipping companies: Maersk, MSC, CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd. In the most extreme case, on a single journey from China to Germany, Maersk is likely to make €325,000 in surcharge profits. 

Maersk is estimated to make the largest surcharge profits on average at €60,000 per voyage, followed by MSC (€25,000), Hapag Lloyd (€23,000) and CMA CGM (€14,000)[1]. While the individual profits for each voyage are not always that high, for carriers with hundreds of vessels this represents millions in surcharge profits every year. 

Shipping costs have such a marginal impact on the final costs of goods, meaning the shipping companies can get away with charging extra costs. As previous T&E studies show, even the most ambitious climate measures would add just cents to most consumer goods like a bunch of bananas, a pair of trainers or a television [2]. 

The ETS costs also pale in comparison to much greater surcharges being levied in response to disruption to Red Sea trade following attacks by Houthi militants. In one example analysed by T&E of routes taken by French shipping company CMA CGM from Asia to Europe, the cost of the ETS represents less than 1% of the price of a container. Their Red Sea surcharge, on the other hand, makes up nearly 18% of the total container cost.[2]

Jacob Armstrong concluded: “Economies of scale mean the shipping business can absorb pretty large price shocks. The Red Sea disruption is pretty much as bad as it gets and global trade still hasn’t ground to a halt. The ETS is peanuts in comparison. Cost is not a barrier to shipping decarbonisation when the most ambitious green measures would add just cents to most consumer goods.”

To its credit, Maersk – the worst performer in T&E’s study – has set out ambitious plans to produce alternative green fuels. Last year, the Danish shipping giant launched the world’s first green methanol container ship and recently announced decarbonisation targets compatible with science-based climate targets, says T&E.




Notes to editor

[1] T&E takes a conservative estimate based on an official carbon price of €90, which is higher than the current ETS price of €64.95.

[2] Based on an ETS surcharge (01/12/23) from the port of Algeciras to the port of Shanghai and Red Sea surcharge for the route “Mediterranean to Asia” (20/1/24) announced by CMA CGM. Distances are drawn from real voyage data, per-container calculations, load factor and reefer containers not considered. Retrieved from and

[3] T&E contacted all four companies for clarification on their methodologies for calculating surcharges. Only Hapag-Lloyd responded, while Maersk declined to give information. CMA CGM and MSC did not reply.

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