Cargo ships must cut their emissions in half by 2050

cargo ship
BLACK SMOKER A new international agreement places a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from international cargo ships.

A new, hard-fought international deal will set limits on greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping for the first time.

Delegates to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization, or IMO, met for a week in London to hash out the details of the plan. On April 13, more than 170 states agreed to the new road map, which aims to reduce shipping emissions at least 50 percent below 2008 levels by 2050.

Currently, international shipping emissions make up about 2 to 3 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane. That’s roughly on par with Germany’s annual emissions. And a 2014 IMO report calculated that international shipping emissions were on track to increase 50 to 250 percent by 2050. These emissions were not included in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the international pact to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (SN: 1/9/16, p. 6).

Every year, tens of thousands of cargo ships crisscross the ocean, hauling everything from cars to coffee. Such ships largely rely on heavy fuel oil, which both contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and is a public health hazard, containing as much as 1,800 times the sulfur of diesel fuel, says James Corbett,…

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