Reduce boat speed to tackle shipping pollution – report

When it comes to shipping pollution, slowing down vessels is 'the closest thing to a silver bullet', according to a report from two NGOs

Transport - Container ship 2 - Credit: Ines Hegedus-Garcia CC BY 2.0

When it comes to shipping pollution, slowing down vessels is “the closest thing to a silver bullet”, according to a report from two NGOs.

Cutting ship speeds would not only curb the shipping industry’s greenhouse gas emissions but also its release of black carbon, sulphur oxides (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). 

So says a new report by Transport & Environment and Sea for Life, which demonstrated how a cut in speed by 10-20% in container ships translated to a reduction in CO2 emissions by 13-23% and comparable drops in the other pollutants. 

“Killing four birds with one stone is pretty good, but when you add in that it saves ship-owners money on their fuel bill, it really is a no-brainer,” said Faig Abbasov, shipping policy officer at Transport & Environment.  

According to the report’s findings, slower speeds would reduce noise pollution and the number of collisions with marine mammals. 

The report, part-funded by the EU Life Programme, was released to coincide with negotiations at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in London. The IMO is the regulating body of the shipping industry and is due to adopt a revised strategy for reducing the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2023. 

“Speed reduction is the closest thing to a silver bullet the IMO will ever see,” said John Maggs, senior policy advisor at Seas at Risk. 

“Delegates attending this week’s IMO climate negotiations have on the table proposals to reduce ship speed that would not just make a big dent in shipping’s climate impact but would massively reduce air pollution, underwater noise pollution, and the incidence of fatal collisions between whales and ships, all issues that the IMO must also deal with.”

The global shipping industry produces significant amounts of greenhouse gases, around 2.6% of total emissions. SOx and NOx pollution causes respiratory problems. Black carbon is a light-absorbing pollution, which as well as causing health defects, accelerates warming in ice and snow covered areas such as the Arctic by decreasing albedo. 

If left unchecked, according to IMO studies, shipping emissions will increase by 50 to 250% by mid-century. 

UN countries have agreed on a deal to halve shipping emissions compared to 2008 levels by that time, even if EU member states had pushed for more ambitious targets. Commission vice-president of the New Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, has vouched for tougher action on shipping emissions within the EU 

Follow Up:

Seas at Risk report, EC guidance on reducing emissions from shipping.