Thorleif Thorleifsson

Green Shipping is Cheap!

The global shipping industry’s greenhouse-gas emissions now total more than one billion tons annually (IMO, 2020). This totals to emissions that exceed all other nations other than the top 5. With such high emissions, measures need to be taken. However, what is important to note when looking at the maritime industry, is that transportation by sea and ship is the most environmentally friendly way of transporting goods (DNV-GL, 2016). The question at hand however is who is responsible for measures being taken? With a so many stakeholders, such a substantial value chain and high potential costs for a green shift, this question still stands.

IMO was established in 1948 and now describes their responsibilities as the safety and security of shipping as well as the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships. However, emissions from the industry are substantial, and both can and should be reduced. When starting this opinion essay, my original thought was to focus on the company (more specifically, the ship owners) as a stakeholder. What however struck me, was the difficulty for separate ship owners to change the entire industry. New types of ships are extremely expensive to build and if the industry eventually end up going in a different direction, you are left with extreme losses. What quickly became obvious was that such change needed to be imposed on ship owners for real change to happen.

The first measure to be taken towards a reduction of emissions in the maritime industry is one taken by the state governments themselves. The Norwegian government already has support incentives for people to choose electric cars. The same should be done for ship owners who build new ships or consider refurbishing old ones. Subsidizing ships will naturally have a substantially higher cost than cars per unit and per company, but for an industry where margins often are very low, subsidiary may be essential in order for Norwegian ship owners to order new, environmentally friendly ships. Other incentives given for companies with a focus on environment could also be given through for example Export Finance Norway, the governmental financial enterprise in Norway. Such incentives will urge players in the industry to choose environmentally friendly solutions while being rewarded for it.

The second measure that can be taken is one that can be set in place much quicker. By setting governmental regulatory restrictions to speeds for ships at sea, emissions can be reduced greatly. A 12% reduction in at-sea average speed leads to an average decrease of 27% in fuel consumption – thereby reducing emissions and helps fight global warming. Other steps will take much longer to develop and set in place, but this step is one that can be set in place today. This means that major change and a substantial reduction in emissions can start now, with the other steps looking forward to reducing emissions in the future. This will also help lighten the urgency of new technology.

The last, but certainly not least of the steps that the governmental stakeholders can take is fuel choice. Although at the end of the day, this is the choice of the ship owners themselves, regulations and encouragement from governmental institutions and IMO will without a doubt help push towards environmentally friendly fuels that help fight climate change.  The fact of the manner is that due to how expensive a renewal of the current fleet is, the reluctance in shipping to embrace green fuels is high. Existing regulations such as the EU taxonomy already make the future use of heavy fuel oil unsuitable, but future guidelines and regulations from IMO and other organizations can steer the route of future fuels and what fuels end up being preferred.

With such a large part of transport of goods taking place at sea, and with thereby quite substantial emissions is important for governments and IMO to create both regulations and incentives for the industry to complete a green shift. I believe that a combination of economic incentives from governments, speed restrictions and a push towards a choice of preferred future fuels from governments and IMO can help substantially reduce the emissions from the industry. This combination will help lighten the pressure today, while working towards even lower emissions in the future. Green shipping is cheap. Understand me correctly – green shipping is cheap compared to the costs of reducing emissions in other industries and in private households. A lot of the costs should (and must – in order for change to actually happen) be taken on by governmental bodies.


EU must act after study shows shipping pollution could increase by half. (202–08-04). Campaigning for Cleaner Transport in Europe | Transport & Environment. ‍

Figueres, J. M. F. (2020, October 21). Climate change: Is shipping bad for the environment? World Economic Forum.

Fourth Greenhouse Gas Study 2020. (2020). IMO. 

How to make shipping environmentally friendly. (2021). SINTEF.

IMO. (2021). Introduction to IMO. IMO.

Sea transport is more climate & environmental friendly | Color Line. (2021). Colorline.

What are the most environmentally friendly travel options for your business? | Engineer Live. (2020, March 6). Engineer Live.

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