The UK’s shipping sector is responsible for around one fifth of total UK transport greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the UK has “no credible policies” to tackle this, according to the Climate Change Committee.

Treading water on shipping emissions

The UK’s shipping sector is responsible for around one fifth of total UK transport greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Despite the critical need to eliminate GHG emissions in line with Net Zero, the UK has “no credible policies” to do so, according to the Climate Change Committee.

The Government’s answer is to develop non-binding emissions targets for domestic shipping, whilst passing responsibility for UK international shipping emissions - 80% of the total - to the ineffective International Maritime Organization (IMO). This approach will fail.

The Government’s flagship strategy for eliminating shipping’s GHG emissions is two years overdue and still without a publication date. And the IMO’s 2050 strategy for international shipping emissions is not compatible with the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

26 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent produced from UK shipping

3.2 million tonnes of zero emission fuels required for UK shipping by 2035

2TWh of electricity to supply shore power to UK ports by 2035

What do we need

The UK must regulate all of its shipping emissions, both domestic and international, under a single policy framework. The framework should progressively limit GHG emissions from all ships calling at UK ports.

To achieve this, the sector will require very large quantities of renewable, hydrogen-based fuels and renewable electricity. Establishing a new industry producing zero-emission marine fuels presents a huge economic opportunity, as some of these fuels could and should be produced in the UK. Mandating the use of renewable fuels, as has been done for both the aviation and road transport sectors, would guarantee essential investment before 2030.

Shipping is also a major cause of poor air quality in UK ports, which contributes to a range of health impacts, including asthma and heart disease. Whilst the Government has acknowledged the problem of pollution caused by shipping, there are still no effective policies to address it. Furthermore, the UK’s air quality regulations permit levels of air pollutants up to four times greater than those recommended by the World Health Organisation.

What about ship efficiency and ports

Ship efficiency improvements are also needed. 20% of GHG emissions would be saved if all ships calling at UK ports met the highest level under international standards, and this is something the UK should also require.

To eliminate both GHG and air pollutant emissions in ports, all UK berths need to be zero-emission. Infrastructure changes are needed in ports to provide ships with shore power and zero-emission fuels, and various policies like mandating zero-emission berths and charging ships for their pollution would help drive and fund the necessary changes. 

Why do we need these changes

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.

Eliminating emissions from UK shipping is no small task, but doing so offers significant climate, health and economic benefits to the UK. The case for a robust and ambitious legal framework for UK maritime energy that is equal to the challenge of Net Zero is loud and clear. The course forward for the UK is clearly charted. The UK must set sail.