Shipping is responsible for over a tenth of transport emissions and is a major source of air pollution. Thanks to decades of inaction, its environmental impact is growing. But switching to green fuels and greater efficiency would bring a cleaner future.

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Shipping emits 1,000 Mt CO2 per year, which is 3% of global CO2 emissions. According to The International Maritime Organisation, shipping emissions are set to increase by up to 50% by mid-century if stringent measures are not taken.

Shipping also contributes to poor air quality. T&E is the leading environmental organisation in Europe tackling shipping emissions and other negative impact of shipping.

Growing climate impact

Under a business-as-usual scenario, and if other sectors of the economy reduce emissions to keep the global temperature increase below 2 degrees, shipping could represent some 10% of global GHG emissions by 2050. Ships use some of the world’s dirtiest fuels on earth.

There is an alternative: Clean fuels

Green shipping fuels produced from renewable electricity such as hydrogen and e-ammonia represent the most promising way to decarbonise a sector that has long been reluctant to change. That’s because unlike many alternative fuels, e-fuels are truly sustainable and their production can be deployed to meet shipping’s growing demand. 

However the uptake of e-fuels won’t happen on its own. That’s mainly because of very high costs. If the EU proposals for maritime are equipped with the right incentives for e-fuels, the demand could reach up to 7% of the EU shipping fuel mix already by 2030. This would give the sector the kickstart needed to deploy renewable fuels and ultimately achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The shipping industry’s failure to act

Despite these plans and many successive rounds of negotiations, the International Martime Organization has so far failed to adopt reduction measures to set the maritime sector on a pathway compatible with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.

It remains to be seen whether the European governments and the EU will take responsibility for the shipping industry’s climate impact in Europe. The European Commission has extended its carbon market to the sector so that, as of 2024, shipping emitters have to pay for their pollution. It has also introduced a green fuels mandate of 2% by 2034, but while this is a positive step, it is still not enough to put shipping on course for zero by 2050.

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