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Shipping Efficiency Would Save 7.9 Gigatons of Carbon by 2050

Beat Strasser/Wikimedia Commons

Increasing transport ship efficiency places #32 on Drawdown’s list of climate solutions. Efficiency gains of 50% across the sector, at a net cost of US$915.9 billion, could prevent 7.9 gigatons of CO2 emissions by 2050, while saving the international marine industry US$1 trillion in fuel costs over the life of the vessels.

Though few of us ever see the 90,000 freighters which carry 80% of the merchandise we buy and sell around the world, the emissions produced by these vessels are considerable, and growing. Currently comprising 3% of the annual global total, Drawdown states, emissions from big ships on the high seas could account for up to 17% of global emissions by 2050—in the absence of efforts to rein in fuel consumption. [The industry very reluctantly made a first substantive step [1] in that direction in April.—Ed.]

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Such efforts are escalating, however, with ship designers working on innovations like “duck-tail” sterns and pumping compressed air bubbles along a ship’s hull to “lubricate” its passage through water. “These two innovations alone can reduce fuel use by 7 to 22%, depending on the type of boat,” writes Drawdown.

Because a more hydrodynamic craft uses less fuel, researchers are hard at work on this problem—like University of Florida professor Anthony Brennan, who has developed a biomimetic coating for hulls that mimics the capacity of shark skin to repel the growth of algae and barnacles. That matters, since the added weight and drag of such “biofouling” can drive up fuel consumption by up to 40%, Drawdown notes.

And simply slowing down can cut consumption by as much as 30%.

Important joint efforts between industry and NGOs include the Sustainable Shipping Initiative. which has brought together “15 of the leading shipping companies, the World Wildlife Fund, and Forum for the Future,” a British sustainable development NGO, with the goal of creating “a completely sustainable shipping industry by 2040.”