True CO2 emissions in shipping

Now as the New Year is approaching shipping and its emissions are a hot topic again. To make matters harder danish Sea-Intelligence has released a shocking analysis. Sea-Intelligence has compared online CO2 calculators provided by various shipping companies on their own websites. These calculators are aimed to help shippers on comparing the total carbon footprint of their shipment. Sea-Intelligence noticed that CO2 calculators come with a big bunch of problems and provide a skewed or even wrong results on total CO2 emissions. Most shocking revelation was how one carrier’s online calculator provides result of 77 % less CO2 emitted per container than another carrier’s calculator, even when both containers would use a same ship all the way (thanks to alliances and vessel pooling).

Shipping has taken big steps towards more sustainable transportation and has made significant reductions on CO2 emissions. Discoveries like this undermine the creditability of the hard work done by the shipping companies, regulators and everyone else. Efforts to get rid of the image of old and polluting industry just took a step backwards.

Online calculators were not necessarily lying and in some cases the reasons for inaccurate CO2 emission results were old standards, old parameters and lack of updating them. As such it does not seems like companies were lying, but rather not aware of the issues in the online calculators. Report also acknowledges how carriers have their own ways of calculating their CO2 emissions. Some carriers might, for example, reduce their net emissions with such factors other carriers did not consider. The most obvious example of faulty calculations was the distance between China and New York: One online calculator used the value 878 kilometers while another one used 1.5 times around the globe.

Shipping has long been an industry with little transparency. Fortunately, there has been big steps taken in this matter as well and shipping is constantly becoming more transparent industry. Could such faulty online CO2 calculators simply be old things nobody has yet fixed? Maybe this is just a good wakeup call for the industry to realize that there is work with transparency still to be done. Customers in post-2020 will expect even more transparency.

Were these faulty online calculators a matter of simple carelessness or not finding of such a big inaccuracies is a major blow for the whole industry trying to reduce its environmental impact. Shipping companies do not need to look any further for New Year promises; this shadiness in the CO2 reporting must end. Shipping companies could come together and together agree on common methodology of assessing their CO2 emissions. This would allow customers to compare the environmental impact of their choices and provide a fair and even playing field for the shipping companies as well as boost fair competition. If common methodology is not doable at least sharing the methodology behind each used online CO2 calculator would be a good start for more transparency in CO2 reporting.

After all the CO2 reductions done in the past 20 years, I do not believe shipping as a industry has anything to hide about its CO2 emissions. Shipping is the most environmentally friendly mode of transport already and this advantage will only become stronger closer to 2030 and 2050 we go. There should not be shame on disclosing the CO2 emissions, shipping is already by far the cleanest mode of transportation!

Source: Chambers, Sam. 05.12.2019, Shippers call for urgent changes in liner CO2 reporting. Accessed 8.12.2019.

About Author

Tuomo Keltto

Tuomo Keltto is a logistics engineer who continued his studies in Seoul, South Korea. He studied at the Korean Government scholarship for a Master's degree in international trade and logistics. Now he is back in Finland and he works at Neste in Porvoo. - He has previously been in Steveco Hietanen for three summers as a temporary stevedore and as a foreman for one summer.