UK. Shipping & global climate change goals report

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Environmental Audit Committee has published its report on Reducing CO2 and other emissions from shipping.... while recognising that shipping ought to do relatively well out of a carbon-constrained world, and that shipping is the most carbon-efficient mode of transport, the report expressed frustration at the slow progress that has been made towards including shipping in carbon reduction strategies.

The Environmental Audit Committee's summary of the report follows:

The emission of greenhouse gases from shipping is a serious problem for international climate change policy. They are growing and there is a risk of considerable delay before they are brought under control. The advent of carbon budgets means it is no longer acceptable to argue that it is too hard to find an adequate basis for dealing with emissions from shipping. Emissions from shipping must be taken into account in the UK's carbon budgets. The Government must work out what the UK's share of global emissions from shipping should be. The Government should commission research on the level of emissions from international shipping that would be compatible with delivering the UK's objective of limiting global warming to 2oC.

Progress of international negotiations

The Kyoto Protocol handed developed economies the responsibility of working to curb emissions from shipping through the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Very little progress has been made. It is unlikely that a proposal will be agreed by the IMO in time to be tabled at the UNFCCC's next Conference of Parties in Copenhagen in December. A lack of urgency shown by industrialised nations and blocking actions by developing economies share the blame. The Government needs to maintain a constructive approach within the IMO, while actively seeking agreements to limit shipping emissions outside the IMO process.

The role of the UK in international negotiations

The Government's position on the use of emissions trading to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from ships lacks coherence. Ministers support the use of revenue from a trading scheme to fund climate change adaptation in developing countries but oppose the hypothecation of revenues for this purpose. The Government justifies emissions trading because this is said to impose a definite cap on emissions; at the same time, it argues that a trading scheme means that reductions can be guaranteed from other areas of the economy and one does not have to put a specific limit on emissions from shipping. The Government should explain how it proposes to transfer funding to support adaptation in developing countries if it maintains its objections to hypothecating revenues. It should clarify what the cap in a shipping emissions trading scheme should be.

Shipping emissions and the Climate Change Act

The Committee on Climate Change recommended that the Government should renegotiate the EU's 2020 climate change targets to include shipping; and that only once this was achieved should it take the UK's share of international shipping emissions into account in setting carbon budgets for the rest of the economy. The Government should not wait for agreement on the EU target, but should consider taking international shipping into account immediately.

The Government admits that the current calculation of the UK's share of international shipping emissions is an underestimate. If the UK's share of these emissions lies at the upper end of the Government's range of estimates then, overall, UK carbon emissions might not have gone down at all since 1990. The Government should consult on how to improve the methodology it uses to calculate the UK's share of international shipping emissions.

Mitigating emissions from shipping  

Government support for research and development should focus on technologies that can be retrofitted to existing ships, and offer a genuine alternative to fossil fuels, such as hydrogen fuel cells.

It should be technically feasible to establish an international emissions control regime that would accurately charge (or require carbon permits from) each ship according to its actual emissions, and securely enforce and verify compliance. In order for a scheme to be a success it must involve as many nations as possible, so as to reduce the scope for evasion. The Government should commission research on the relationship between levels of carbon pricing and impacts on emissions from shipping to ensure its policies are properly informed. The Government should introduce a system of port dues that vary according to the environmental performance of different ships.

Air quality and non-CO2 contributions to climate change

The IMO has made encouraging progress on limiting the emissions of particulate matter and harmful gases other than CO2. The Government must ensure that the tighter regulations agreed at the IMO are adhered to in practice. The Government should assess the case for mandating the provision of shore-side electricity for ships to improve air quality in the UK. The Government ought to consider extending stricter air quality regulations to all coastal waters around the UK.


Emissions from shipping cannot be allowed to grow uncontrolled. It will take several years before technical changes start to make a significant difference. Negotiating operational changes within the IMO may also take some time. We need to ensure that emissions from shipping are taken into account in the UK's carbon budgets. The industry, like any industry, needs a clear signal about the level of ambition it needs to have in respect of emissions of greenhouse gases. Clear targets to 2020 and 2050 will help engineers, operators and owners come up with appropriate solutions, provided the targets are backed up by the right incentives and sanctions and support for research and development.

Shipping ought to do relatively well out of a carbon-constrained world, given that it is the most carbon-efficient mode of transport. Modal shift towards shipping will only happen if policy is joined up and ensures that any regime that increases costs or imposes carbon limits on shipping does not act in isolation; doing so might lead to modal shift from sea to road or air.

Given the central importance of shipping to world trade, and to overall economic growth, there should be drastic acceleration of R&D into low- and zero-carbon propulsion systems. All parties connected to international shipping need more fully to address the challenge of climate change. To meet extremely challenging global emissions reductions targets in the next few decades, the absolute scope for emissions from shipping will have to be severely circumscribed. 

About the Environmental Audit Committee:

The Environmental Audit Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to consider to what extent the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental
protection and sustainable development; to audit their performance against such targets as may be set for them by Her Majesty’s Ministers; and to report thereon to the House.

Current membership
Mr Tim Yeo, MP (Conservative, South Suffolk) (Chairman)
Gregory Barker, MP (Conservative, Bexhill and Battle)
Mr Martin Caton, MP (Labour, Gower)
Colin Challen, MP (Labour, Morley and Rothwell)
Mr David Chaytor, MP (Labour, Bury North)
Martin Horwood, MP (Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham)
Mr Nick Hurd, MP (Conservative, Ruislip Northwood)
Jane Kennedy, MP (Labour, Liverpool Wavertree) [ex-officio]
Mark Lazarowicz, MP (Labour/Co-operative, Edinburgh North and Leith)
Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP (Conservative, Bridgewater)
Mr Shahid Malik, MP (Labour, Dewsbury)
Mrs Linda Riordan, MP (Labour, Halifax)
Mr Graham Stuart, MP (Conservative, Beverley & Holderness)
Jo Swinson, MP (Liberal Democrat, East Dunbartonshire)
Dr Desmond Turner, MP (Labour, Brighton, Kempton)
Joan Walley, MP (Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North)

The constitution and powers are set out in House of Commons Standing Orders, principally Standing Order No. 152A. These are available on the Internet via

The Reports and evidence of the Committee are published by The Stationery Office by Order of the House. All publications of the Committee (including press notices) are on the Internet at:


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 30 June 2009 )