Shipping’s CO2 Emissions Fell in 2020 due to Impact of Pandemic

CO2 emissions from shipping industry
(file photo)

Published Mar 5, 2021 5:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

The global shipping industry’s CO2 emissions reportedly fell in 2020. The slight decline was led by a reduction in emissions in the largest shipping categories from containerships. However it was largely offset by tankers and bulk carriers and the overall decline may have also been artificially driven by the impact of COVID-19 on activity with the shipping business.

The data, which was compiled by Marine Benchmark, a Swedish data analytics firm focusing on the marine industry, looked at the change in emissions from the primary segments of the commercial shipping industry, including containerships, tankers, LNG carriers, bulkers, and vehicle carriers, as well as the cruise and ferry segments.

Among what Marine Benchmark calls the “Big 3,” they reported that containerships had the largest decline of 2.4 percent, but it was offset by tankers and a gain from the bulk carrier segment. In total, CO2 emissions from the three largest segments of the shipping industry were judged to have increased by just over one percent.

The analysis, however, says that the global industry’s CO2 emissions declined in 2020 by one percent. This, however, is skewed by the segments of the shipping industry that saw the large declines in activity due to the pandemic.



“The Coronavirus pandemic has had a varied effect on shipping, with Tankers and Bulkers generally performing well, while other sectors faced headwinds as consumer demand plummeted,” said Torbjorn Rydbergh, Marine Benchmark’s CEO.  “While the overall result is a decrease in carbon emissions for last year, the effect may be temporary as the current recovery in global economic demand points to stronger 2021 shipping activity.”

With cruise ships largely laying at anchor or docked for nine months of 2020, Marine Benchmark reported that their emissions declined by 45 percent. While not as dramatic, the ferry sector also reported a small decline. Among commercial shipping, they reported that the vehicle carrier segment also experienced a sharp decline, again due to lower demand in their business and the fact that some firms such as Wallenius Wilhelmsen laid up ships due to the weak market.

It is unclear how much of the decline came from the lower activity in portions of the industry. The 2021 data is also likely to benefit from the continued decline in activity in segments of the industry. While commercial shipping has seen a rebound in activity, passenger shipping has largely remained sidelined for the first quarter and likely well into 2021 before it can start to recover from the impact of the pandemic.