Sea Change: Transforming the Shipping Industry to Reduce GHG Emissions

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Transforming the Shipping Industry to Reduce GHG Emissions

Shipping is responsible for approximately 2.5% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with an annual output of 940 million tonnes of CO2. Aware of environmental engagement’s importance, the industry and all stakeholders are working to tackle the environmental impact of maritime operations, aiming for a 50% reduction by 2050. This emphasizes the importance of tools and policies for catalyzing a sea change in the shipping sector to promote decarbonization.

What are the environmental impacts related to the shipping industry?

Responsible for the carriage of around 90% of world trade, the maritime sector is the backbone of the global economy. The transportation of raw materials in large quantities, manufactured goods, and the global import/export of affordable food are ensured by the industry.

Unfortunately, this can contribute to global warming due to the significant GHG emissions it releases into the atmosphere. The global emissions rebounded to record levels in 2021, reaching 54.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO₂e) although it briefly dropped in 2020 because of COVID-19 lockdowns.

GHG emissions in sea transport

The emissions from ships, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and sulfur oxides (SOx) contribute to both ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect. They are generated by the burning of fossil fuels in ship engines and auxiliary systems. Produced during propulsion, electricity generation, and various onboard activities, these emissions are the main factors of environmental degradation, an alarming issue on the planet. With international trade’s growth, maritime transport services have increased, carrying more than 80 percent of the world’s traded goods.

The CO2 outputs from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes have surged approximately 90% since 1970, accounting for around 78% of the total greenhouse gas emissions

Habitat destruction and coastal erosion

Several factors contribute to habitat destruction and coastal erosion, but the significant ones include the construction, dredging, and expansion projects associated with large vessels and port infrastructure. The loss of mangroves is one of the notable impacts of these destructions, which is an important environmental issue. Since mangroves play an important role as a natural barrier to various environmental risks like waves, storms, tsunamis, and coastal erosion, they are the primary line of defense for protecting coastlines.

Mangroves are also critical habitats for fish, prawns, crustaceans, and mollusks because they serve as feeding grounds and stocking farms. Therefore, the threat also affects fisheries which may diminish feeding grounds, decrease productivity and growth during the juvenile stage, and lessen overall reproductive success. In addition to severe erosion along the coast, the destruction of mangroves leads to the loss of coastline, which increases the risk of coastal flooding.

Invasive species through ballast water exchange

For the safe operation of ships, they may store freshwater or ocean water in their hulls, which can contain thousands of aquatic or marine microbes, plants, and animals. This can introduce a multitude of non-native species such as bacteria, microbes, algae, and marine species into new environments, leading to ecological disruption, displacement of native species, and loss of biodiversity. Invasions have resulted in disastrous consequences for the local ecosystem. In 2004, the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention) was established to control the transfer of potentially invasive species. All ships engaged in international traffic must adhere to a specific standard outlined in their ship-specific ballast water management plan under the Convention.

Sailing towards net-zero

One of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases is China, contributing 27% to exhausts. This indicates a transformation in the sector for successful greenhouse management. Thankfully, there are initiatives in which the field can participate in preventing the planet from warming.

Green technology development

The adoption of sustainable practices represents a sea change in the shipping industry’s efforts for pollution prevention. The companies should adopt new initiatives to replace traditional fossil fuels by exploring prominent alternative fuels in the maritime sector including liquefied natural gas (LNG), biofuels, or hydrogen. Improving overall energy efficiency requires the integration of advanced propulsion systems, investment in energy-efficient ship designs, hull form optimization, and innovative engineering.

One of the attractive alternative fuels for the maritime industry is blue gas or blue ammonia, a reputed one to zero-carbon green ammonia. Produced from natural gas feedstock, it can potentially scale up quickly using existing technologies thanks to its low production costs.

Another effective way to achieve environmental sustainability is using biogenic and captured CO2 because both represent forms of carbon capture and storage technology. Adopting greener technologies not only reduces the carbon footprint of individual vessels but also promotes a more environmentally friendly and competitive industry.

Adoption of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is revolutionizing shipping by providing innovative solutions to optimize operations, enhance efficiency, and set targets to decarbonize the industry. As AI’s influence becomes more prevalent in the sector, the future of shipping looks bright and promising.

A leading expert in the maritime industry is Sinay, a company that helps ships navigate efficiently by gathering data from diverse sources and employing AI algorithms. Maritime companies facing challenges can benefit from various services such as optimized route planning, predictive maintenance, energy management systems, data analytics for performance monitoring, and alternative fuel management.

Optimizing ship operations

Ensuring that large boats are fast and use fuel wisely is crucial in marine operations. The travel planning systems allow watercraft to reduce transit times while maintaining safety standards and minimizing consumption. With this optimization, which includes route planning and advanced navigation systems, voyage times can be decreased, benefiting both the environment and cost-effectiveness.

Furthermore, using modern digital navigation tools and software that can analyze real-time data, such as weather conditions, currents, traffic density, and consumption patterns, is essential. Implementing a system enables ongoing optimization and adjustment of routing plans based on real-time data and feedback from previous voyages.

importance of optimizing ship operations

Cultural shift and public engagement

Fostering a culture of sustainability and environmental care within the maritime field is imperative for achieving net-zero pollutants and promoting positive environmental shifts. Stakeholders should adopt three key strategies, including integrating renewable energy sources onboard, promoting efficient vessel designs, and optimizing operational practices, to promote sustainability within the area. When parties involved share the best practices, encourage innovation, and provide training and support for reduction efforts, they can accelerate the shift to renewable practices.

Regulations and standard-setting authority

In 2020, the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) set a goal for ships to emit 40% less carbon by 2030 compared to 2008 levels. Regulations require the companies to be more fuel-efficient to produce no carbon at sea by 2030, which is a big step to reduce CO2. Companies should team up with industry peers, port authorities, and other stakeholders to share best practices and work together towards common goals.

International Maritime Organization Regulations

Ensuring compliance with international regulations is paramount. This includes adhering to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which establishes guidelines for sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions as well as advocates for the adoption of cleaner fuels and energy-efficient technologies.

Founded in 1948 and headquartered in London, the IMO is the United Nations agency that has the power to regulate international shipping. The organization plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety, security, and environmental sustainability of the maritime industry worldwide. It establishes regulations for the prevention, reduction, and control of pollution of the marine environment by collaborating extensively with other maritime regulatory bodies and agencies to protect. The agency focuses on key functions such as pollution prevention, the safety of life at sea, the training and certification of seafarers, ship construction and equipment, and navigation.

Regulations implemented to reduce shipping emissions

  • Since January 1, 2013, newly built ships must use the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) to assess and improve their emissions intensity. Additionally, they must submit reports on their Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII).
  • As for existing ships, they must document their energy consumption through the implementation of the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP), fully integrated into their overall management framework.
  • The IMO’s Data Collection System was adopted in 2016 to require ships of 5,000 gross tonnages and above to collect and report data on fuel consumption, distance traveled, and other relevant parameters. This data helps the IMO monitor and assess the energy efficiency and emissions of the global fleet.
  • The Initial IMO GHG Strategy was established in 2018 to scale down emissions in international shipping. The framework is designed to help achieve the temperature goals set by the Paris Agreement.
  • In December 2022, the organization adopted the Mediterranean Sea Emission Control Area (ECA) to regulate sulfur oxides and particulate matter emissions.
  • The IMO encourages research and development initiatives to promote the development and adoption of low-carbon and alternative fuels, as well as innovative technologies to reduce GHG emissions from ships.
  • The IMO has introduced the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) as part of the EEXI (Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index) regime. The CII aims to annually mitigate the carbon intensity of international shipping and requires ships to meet specific efficiency standards.
  • Since January 2023, the IMO has enforced a sequence of new compulsory measures, revising the MARPOL Annex VI Regulations. Originally endorsed by the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in July 2011, these directives target the reduction of emissions from international maritime transport.


Reducing GHG emissions is crucial for pollution prevention, and the shipping industry plays a pivotal role in this challenge. With an urgent need for sustainability, initiatives like the IMO’s Data Collection System, Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), and Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) are reshaping ship design and operations. Collaborative efforts and technological advancements, including alternative fuels, propulsion systems, and Artificial Intelligence are driving progress. With the demands of global trade and commerce, balancing environmental responsibility and meeting targets in maritime transport leads the planet towards a greener future.

Frequently Asked Questions about GHG and Shipping Industry Transformation

The shipping industry contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, habitat destruction, coastal erosion, and the introduction of invasive species through ballast water exchange. These impacts threaten marine ecosystems and biodiversity.

GHG emissions from ships, including carbon dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides, contribute to ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect. These emissions stem from the burning of fossil fuels in ship engines and auxiliary systems, posing environmental degradation challenges globally.

Initiatives include the adoption of green technologies such as alternative fuels (e.g., LNG, biofuels, hydrogen), implementation of Artificial Intelligence for optimization, and optimization of ship operations. Additionally, regulations set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) aim to reduce emissions and promote energy-efficient technologies.

The IMO establishes regulations to reduce emissions, including the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) for new ships, the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) for existing ships, and the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) to mitigate carbon intensity annually. The organization also encourages research and development for low-carbon fuels and innovative technologies.

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