Global Shipping and Emissions

Shipping traffic has grown rapidly in the past two decades—and so have its emissions. But what does that mean for the atmosphere?

Published April 22, 2015

Shipping is the lifeblood of globalization and never before have so many container ships, oil tankers, and even recreational cruise ships, chugged across the world’s oceans. Yet their bunker-fuel-propelled engines spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and perhaps worse, toxic sulfur and nitrogen compounds, too. Hakai Magazine breaks down the environmental impact of ship emissions, for the planet and human health.



Increase in ship traffic density
Tournadre, Jean. "Anthropogenic Pressure on the Open Ocean: The Growth of Ship Traffic Revealed by Altimeter Data Analysis." Geophysical Research Letters 41, no. 22 (2014): 7924–7932. Accessed April 5, 2015.

Emissions intensity graph
"Greenhouse Gas Calculator Emission Factors." Greenhouse Gas Calculator Emission Factors. Accessed April 5, 2015.

Shipping emissions
Smith, TWP, JP Jalkanen, BK Anderson et al. "Executive Summary." In Third IMO GHG Study 2014, 14. London: International Maritime Organization (IMO), 2014. (Available online at:

Distance of emissions from shore
Corbett, James J., Paul S. Fischbeck, and Spyros N. Pandis. "Global Nitrogen and Sulfur Inventories for Oceangoing Ships." Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres 104, no. D3 (2012): 3457-470. Accessed April 5, 2015.

Mortality from ships
Corbett, James J., James J Winebrake, Erin H Green, Prasad Kasibhatla, Veronika Ehring, and Axel Lauer. "Mortality from Ship Emissions: A Global Assessment." Environmental Science and Technology 41, no. 24 (2007): 8512–8518. Accessed April 5, 2015.

What’s changing
Spurrier, Andrew. "EU Approves Scheme to Monitor Ship Emissions." IHS Maritime 360. November 27, 2014. Accessed April 5, 2015.

"Designation of North American Emission Control Area to Reduce Emissions from Ships." EPA. March 1, 2010. Accessed April 5, 2015.

Lachmann Christensen, Maike. "Triple-E Set New Standards." Triple-E. Accessed April 15, 2015.
Helfre, Jean-Florent, and Pedro Andre Couto Boot. "Emission Reduction in the Shipping Industry: Regulations, Exposure and Solutions." Sustainalytics. July 1, 2013. Accessed April 4, 2015.