European Environment Agency (EEA)

The impact of international shipping on European air quality and climate forcing


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Due to its dependence on fossil fuel combustion and the fact that it is one of the least regulated anthropogenic emission sources, emissions from the marine transport sector contribute significantly to air pollution and climate change.

The main objective of this report is to provide a comprehensive review of recent literature and reports, taking into account expert knowledge, on the maritime transport sector. The report addresses the sector's impact on air quality and climate forcing in Europe. In order to provide this overview a broad range of topics have been addressed.

These include:

  • registration of ships, international maritime law and international and European environmental legislation (Chapter 2);
  • monitoring and modelling of maritime fuel consumption and resulting emissions (Chapter 3);
  • past and future trends of air pollutants and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shipping (Chapter 4);
  • attribution of air quality problems to emission from the maritime transport sector by evaluating atmospheric observations and modelling data (Chapter 5); and
  • understanding the climate forcing characteristics of ship emissions and atmospheric modelling (Chapter 6).

Main findings from the report
Key findings, as highlighted below, focus on the importance of emissions compared to other sectors; present and future air quality issues; and, the contribution of the sector to present day and future climate forcing.

Emissions from maritime transport in European waters constitute a significant share of worldwide ship emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

The sector's environmental impact is significant as emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) from shipping occurring in European waters can contribute up to 10–20 % of overall worldwide shipping emissions. When considering all ship traffic from national and international shipping arriving or departing from EU-27 ports the contribution can be up to 30 % for CO2.

This report also shows that the number of ships registered in the EU-27, combined with ships owned by European companies but registered in third countries, is substantial. In 2011, about 19 % of the world merchant vessel fleet above 100 gross tonnage (GT) were registered in European countries. When taking into account ships registered abroad by European ship owners the European share of the global merchant fleet will be higher.

Emissions of nitrogen oxides from international maritime transport in European waters are projected to increase and could be equal to land‑based sources by 2020 onwards.

The report includes a review of recently developed scenario studies on ship emissions and shows that NOX emissions could be equal to land-based emissions sources from 2020 onwards. SO2 emissions in European waters will continue to decrease further from 2020 onwards due to legislation on the sulphur content in fuel. It is expected that this will also lead to a decrease in emissions of PM2.5.

Shipping emissions can contribute significantly to local air quality problems in Europe, but the pan‑European knowledge and observation base needs to be improved to provide a more complete picture.

The review of available observation data shows that there are relatively few measurement data available to attribute the contribution of ship emissions to local air pollution. Available data shows that the contribution of particulate matter from shipping to local concentrations can be up to 20–30 %, especially for fine particulate matter.

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