The shipping industry’s environmental footprint is large and growing. If it were a country it would be the 6th largest emitter of climate emissions in the world. Other harmful emissions to air include sulphur, nitrogen, and black carbon. Emissions to water include accidental and routine discharges of oil, chemicals, sewage, greywater, plastics and other garbage, and acidic waste-water from exhaust gas cleaning systems. Cargo is routinely lost overboard with regular large-scale container loss at sea a particular problem. Paints used to keep the bottom of ships free from biofouling leach chemicals into the surrounding water. Ships are a key source of underwater noise pollution. They also pose a regular and deadly threat when they collide with whales and other cetaceans. The transfer of invasive aquatic organisms in ships ballast water is a common occurrence.

The growth of both the industry and the average size of ships are destroying important coastal ecosystems as ports are dredged, developed and expanded. The poorly-regulated scrapping and recycling of ships on beaches in the developing world continues. And the use of “flags of convenience” to evade labour and environmental controls, and “tonnage tax” systems to avoid paying taxes, are industry-wide phenomena. The shipping industry is a key contributor to the climate and biodiversity crisis and a significant threat to social and economic justice.

We aim to eliminate the harm caused by the shipping industry to ocean and climate health by pursuing ambitious policies at the International Maritime Organization, the UN’s global shipping regulator. Below are some of the issues we are working on.

The Climate Crisis

Shipping is responsible for around 3% of all global GHG emissions, and its climate impact continues to grow. Science says that climate emissions must roughly halve by 2030 and reduce to zero close to 2040 to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees and provide humanity with a good chance of a liveable future. And shipping must contribute its fair share to this effort.

The industry is well placed to transition away from fossil fuels, with numerous operational and technical options to reduce and eliminate its climate impact, but progress has been slow and unambitious.

We call on the shipping industry and the International Maritime Organization to:

  • Set a target of halving ship climate impacts by 2030 and 100% decarbonisation close to 2040, and immediately established measures to bring this about.
  • Act on all climate heating emissions, including black carbon and methane, using a 20 year global warming potential time horizon.
  • Assess new technologies and fuels on a well-wake basis and ensure they are safe throughout the lifecycle of the technology, fuel and ship.
  • Ensure that shipping’s climate transition is just and equitable.

Ocean Plastic Pollution

Ships routinely spill plastic pellets, discard fishing gear, and pollute the ocean with plastics from ropes, paint and waste grey water. These are a major source of coastline litter and habitat degradation. Plastic pellets also release dangerous toxic chemicals, while fishing gear continues to catch both target and non-target species, entangling and killing threatened and protected ocean wildlife.

Due to the transboundary nature of ocean pollution and growing hazards, plastic pellets, lost fishing gear and other ship-source plastic pollution require international action, but strong global governance on these issues has so far been lacking.

We call on the shipping industry and the International Maritime Organization to:

  • Prevent plastic pellets from ship cargo entering our oceans by correctly categorising and handling them as dangerous goods.
  • Make the marking of fishing gear and the reporting of lost fishing gear mandatory.
  • Proactively identify other sources of marine plastic pollution from ships and develop measures to tackle them.

Underwater Noise Pollution

Ships are the most pervasive source of noise pollution in the oceans, especially in the form of low-frequency sound from engines and propellers. Many marine animals rely on sound to navigate, find prey, avoid predators, and communicate with each other, and all these activities are compromised by ship-source underwater noise pollution, with serious consequences for the health of our oceans.

Despite there being a variety of ship design, maintenance, and operational measures that can decrease underwater noise and reduce its adverse impacts on ocean wildlife, ship-source underwater noise pollution continues to roughly double each decade. Guidelines designed to make ship’s quieter have existed for many years but have had little effect on noise levels.

We call on the shipping industry and the International Maritime Organization to:

  • Agree quantitative precautionary noise reduction targets for international shipping.
  • Move beyond voluntary guidelines and agree a suite of legally binding measures to ensure that both new and existing ships meet those targets.