It seems many in the freight industry are attempting to do their part to reduce environmental impact. Freight shipping accounts for 16% of all corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

That number is expected to increase anywhere from 50% to 250% of the current total emissions by 2050 due to increased shipping expectations, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. 

The shipping industries have worked diligently to reduce pollution in their commercial operations. However, according to a report released by TimeForChange.org, the air cargo industry could do a lot more. As stated in the report, air cargo emits exponentially more CO2 per metric ton of freight and per kilometre of transportation. The average 747 transporting cargo emits 500 grams of CO2 per metric ton of freight per kilometre of transportation, according to the report. The effect of CO2 emissions from air cargo is also much more damaging – two to three times more – due to planes releasing the CO2 at higher altitudes into the atmosphere, as reported by TimeForChange.org.

In 2016, the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) implemented a voluntary measure, known as the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), with the goal of combating airline emissions and keeping them at 2020 levels by 2027. According to an ICAO press release, CORSIA is meant to assist with other mitigation measures to reduce CO2 emissions, which include “technical and operational improvements and advances in the production and use of sustainable alternative fuels for aviation. A CORSIA pilot phase will begin with volunteers from 2021 to 2023; then the first phase will be from 2024 to 2026. Between 2027 and 2035, participation by the 191 ICAO member states is mandatory, according to the press release.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) works to secure safer, cleaner practices by the shipping industry and reduce GHG emissions. The IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) instituted a strategy to reduce total annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to the emissions of 2008, according to Natasha Brown, IMO Media and Communications Officer. Brown recognises the drastic difference between air and sea transport emissions. “It’s true that per ton of cargo carried, shipping emits far less CO2 and is, therefore, the most sustainable way of transporting goods around the world. Indeed, shipping transports more than 80% of world trade by volume,” Brown said.

The IMO is committed to a two-pronged approach to addressing GHG emissions from international shipping, Brown explained. They have adopted mandatory energy-efficiency measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from international shipping. Secondly, the IMO is working in global capacity-building projects to support the implementation of those regulations and encouraging innovation and technology transfer, Brown said.

Several shipping companies have come on board with the mission, including Maersk who have set a net zero CO2 emission goal by 2050, according to documentation provided by Tine W. Jensen, Maersk’s Asia Pacific Regional Communications Manager. Maersk has reduced their fleet’s relative CO2 emissions by 46% from their 2007 baseline, an approximate 9% more than the industry average, Jensen explained.

“Environmentally friendly practices have been driven by regulation by IMO, but also by the industry itself. Going green is good for business,” Brown explained. However, there are certainly hurdles. Common barriers to starting and implementing energy efficient technologies and operational measures include technical, operational and financial, Brown added. “All of these can be addressed in different ways. Some may take longer than others. Some may be dependent on governments making decisions. IMO projects are helping to address some of these, working in partnership with industry and governments,” Brown said.