Shipping Group Leaps Into Europe's Top 10 Polluters List

Until this year, the EU's top polluters were mostly coal-fired power plants. But shipping is among the few industries not covered by the Paris climate agreement.

Dec 9, 2019
The MSC Gulsun launched this year as the world's largest container ship. Its operator, Mediterranean Shipping Company, has become one of Europe's Top 10 polluters. Credit: Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The MSC Gulsun launched this year as the world's largest container ship. Its operator, Mediterranean Shipping Company, has become one of Europe's Top 10 polluters. Credit: Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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A ranking of the top 10 corporate polluters in Europe includes a shipping group for the first time, in a sign of how some emissions-heavy industries are escaping the environmental clampdown imposed on others.

Vessels operated by Mediterranean Shipping Company, the continent's largest, emitted 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide last year on journeys to, from or within the European Union, according to analysis of EU data by Transport & Environment, a non-governmental organization.

That made Swiss-headquartered MSC Europe's eighth-worst polluting company, breaking into a list that was until recently the exclusive preserve of coal-fired power stations. It is only the second company not in that sector to break into the top 10, following Irish airline Ryanair's inclusion earlier this year.

Shipping is among the only industries not covered by the Paris climate agreement, and although the UN industry body the International Maritime Organization has set a goal of halving its emissions by 2050, few immediate steps have been taken to reach that goal.

"Almost everything we touch has been on a ship," said Faig Abbasov, shipping manager at Transport & Environment. "All those things have a huge environmental footprint—an invisible element in the supply chain that has a huge impact on the environment."

MSC's 362 Europe-operating ships are responsible for 25 percent of the continent's container ship carbon emissions, ahead of second-placed Maersk, which has 335 ships and a carbon output of 8.22 million tonnes.

The broader European shipping industry, including passenger and bulk cargo vessels, produced 139 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018, and emissions in the sector are 19 percent higher than in 1990, according to Transport & Environment.

Expansion Fueled by Global Trade

Global trade growth has fuelled the expansion of container shipping, according to International Transport Forum, a think tank which estimates the sector has tripled in size since 2000 and faces demand growth at the same rate over the next 30 years.

While other modes of transport are subject to emissions regulations, shipping has so far escaped any serious limits.

Abbasov said the fact that the sector's operations were largely out of sight had protected it from public scrutiny and political action.

MSC Says It Has a 'Green Fleet'

MSC said it was investing in improvements to the sustainability of its fleet that had resulted in a 13 percent reduction in CO2 emissions per unit of transport work.

While it emits more carbon in total than any other European shipping company, it was among the most energy efficient, emitting 19.92 grams of CO2 for each tonne of cargo per nautical mile. The most efficient carrier, China's Cosco, emitted 13.25 grams per tonne per nautical mile, while the 10th least efficient produced 43.05 grams.

"MSC operates a modern, green fleet and is investing heavily in low-carbon technologies and extensive new-build and retrofit programmes to boost performance and minimise our environmental impact," the company said.

It also announced this weekend that it would start using a biofuels blend in vessels calling at Rotterdam, which it said would further reduce its emissions.

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