Vladimir A. Lazarev

Admiral Nevelskoy Maritime State University, Vladivostok Economic Research Institute, Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Khabarovsk

Andrei I.Fisenko

Admiral Nevelskoy Maritime State University, Vladivostok

Abstract: To date, greenhouse gas emissions from the global merchant fleet have been very significant: just under 3% of total global emissions. The container fleet is a significant contributor to these emissions providing higher emissions per ton of cargo transported than the other two largest segments of the merchant fleet, tankers and bulk carriers. This study examines the reduction of total carbon dioxide emissions when the Northern Sea Route is used to deliver containerized cargo between Europe and Asia. It is shown that the use of the Northern Sea Route improves the environmental friendliness of the global transportation system

Keywords: global merchant fleet; environmental friendliness of transport; Northern Sea Route; greenhouse gas emissions; container transportation system


In recent ten years, the environmental safety of transport has become a determining factor in the formulation of transport policy. This trend has been particularly pronounced in water transport. Perhaps the most significant innovation in recent years was the addendum to the MARPOL convention known as IMO Sulphur 2020. This addendum has tightened the requirements for marine fuels, and, according to it, the sulphur content in bunker fuel must not exceed 0.5% from 1 January 2020, while previously the sulphur content in marine fuel oil could be as high as 3.5%. Moreover, according to this special addendum, fuel with a sulphur content of more than 0.5% is not only prohibited to use, but even to transport in fuel tanks, unless the ship is equipped with a scrubber, i.e. a special device for reducing the concentration of Sulphur dioxide in exhaust gases [1].

IMO Sulphur 2020 can only be compared in terms of its impact on the maritime transport industry with the 1992 and 2003 MARPOL Amendments, known as 1992 Amendment to MARPOL 73/78 and 2003 Amendment to MARPOL 73/78, which between 2010 and 2015 led to the decommissioning of tankers with a total deadweight of over 50 million tons [2]. Thus, increasingly stringent environmental requirements are having an increasing impact on maritime transport.

Today, particular attention is being paid to greenhouse gas emissions, the limits of which have become almost a mainstream of international policy. The IMO is setting increasingly ambitious targets for improving the energy efficiency of ships, using alternative fuels and pushing for national initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping. The overall target set by the IMO is to reduce total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050 compared to 2008, and carbon dioxide emissions by 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2050 (IMO Initial GHG Strategy 2018). The IMO’s concerns are understandable, as according to its own studies, greenhouse gas emissions from watercraft, including international and local shipping and fishing, increased by 9.6% in 2018 compared to 2012 to 1,076 million ton, including 1,056 million ton of carbon dioxide. The rest is methane and nitrogen dioxide in carbon equivalent. Greenhouse gas emissions attributable to waterborne transport were 2.76% in 2012 and 2.89% in 2018 of the global level [3]. As can be seen from the data presented, emissions are increasing and this trend is capable of triggering anti-crisis measures at both national and global level.

Container transport system in world trade

The containerization of general cargo is an objective trend in transport since the 1960s, in fact since the introduction of the large- capacity container design. The benefits of containerization are obvious – it significantly increases the productivity of port transshipment facilities due to greater cargo capacity of a single container. The standardization of the containerized transport system has led to containerized cargoes taking one of the leading positions in global transport turnover. Moreover, there is rising tendency for non-containerized general cargoes to be squeezed out of transport turnover. From 2015 to 2019, global container turnover showed a continuous growth from 131 M TEU in 2015 (estimated) to 151 M TEU in 2019. The crisis associated with the coronavirus pandemic reduced container turnover to 143 million TEU in 2020. At the same time, extrapolation of container traffic for the period 2015- 2019 shows that container turnover in 2020 should have exceeded 159 million TEU if the global economy had remained stable. One important major segment of global container turnover is the container turnover between Europe and Asia. In 2015, container turnover along this route exceeded 21 million TEU, and by 2020 it would be 23 million TEU (an increase of 9.5%). Pandemic curbed the growth of the world economy, otherwise container turnover would have reached 25.8 million TEU in 2020. The continued growth of global container cargo shipments supports the growing demand for specialized container fleets as well. Thus, between 2015 and 2020, the total deadweight of the global fleet of container ships increased by 20% to more than 274 million ton.

It is clear that the container fleet is not the greatest source of greenhouse gases. According to IMO GHG Study [3], significant growth of the container fleet does not result in a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, according to the UNCTAD study [4], a 45% increase in the deadweight of the container fleet from 2011 to 2019 resulted in only a 2% increase in greenhouse gas emissions. During the same period, the increase in deadweight of the tanker fleet was 38% and that of the bulk carrier fleet was 51%, which led to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 19% and 17% respectively. This fact, on the one hand, may indicate that container fleet vessels have significantly higher propulsion efficiency per ton of deadweight than other types of vessels. On the other hand, the reason may be in the fact that container fleet vessels carry on average much less effective payload than tankers and bulk carriers. Part of carrying capacity of container ship is occupied by empty containers, and loaded containers carry an average homogeneous load of 15 tons or less for a 20-foot container and 20 tons or less for a 40-foot container. Thus the average stowage factor of containerized goods is at least 2.2 cubic meter per ton, which is significantly higher than for liquid and bulk cargo. In this regard, the actual greenhouse gas emission trends due to the increasing efficiency of ship propulsion per ton-mile of payload for different ship types given in a more general study [3] show a completely different efficiency profile for different ship types. In addition, while in 2008 the average emission of a container ship was estimated at 20.7 grams of carbon dioxide per ton-mile of payload, by 2018 it had decreased to 15.3 grams (by 26%). For tankers and bulk carriers, these figures fell over the same period from 13.6 and 12.2 grams to 9.7 and 7.3 grams respectively (28.7% and 40.2%). Thus, harmful emissions from container ships are around 30 per cent higher per unit of payload. On the average for the world’s fleet, carbon dioxide emissions per ship decreased from 17.1 grams per ton-mile in 2008 to 11.67 grams per ton-mile in 2018 showing a reduction by 31.7 per cent. Despite the private positive trend, greenhouse gas emission remains an issue, as there has been a significant increase in water-borne cargo turnover at the same time as vessel efficiency has improved. The same study [3] supposes that, if the present tendencies will be stable, by 2050, depending on the scenario of the world economy development, the increase of greenhouse gas emission from water transport may reach 40% over the level of 2008, which, as it was stated before, radically contradicts the IMO strategic goal of reducing the greenhouse gas emission.

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