Cargo ships are the world's worst polluters, so how can they be made to go green?

Shipping produces more carbon emissions than most countries and pollutes the oceans. Will slowing vessels or making them electric do enough? Mark Piesing reports

Every day the clothes, tech and toys that fill the shelves in our shopping centres seem to arrive there by magic. In fact, about nine out of 10 items are shipped halfway around the world on board some of the biggest and dirtiest machines on the planet.

It has been estimated that just one of these container ships, the length of around six football pitches, can produce the same amount of pollution as 50 million cars. The emissions from 15 of these mega-ships match those from all the cars in the world. And if the shipping industry were a country, it would be ranked between Germany and Japan as the sixth-largest contributor to global CO2 emissions.

Most of the pollution occurs far out at sea, out of the sight and minds of consumers and out of the reach of any government. Now, an alliance of environmentalists, researchers and industry organisations, as well as ship owners and builders, fed up with the sluggishness of the industrys response to its emissions problem, is attempting to do something about it.

Initially, their goals are to ­encourage ships to sail at slower speeds to reduce emissions, to persuade owners to share data with each other to encourage efficiency, and even to help shipping companies find new ways to make money in the low-carbon economy.

Ultimately, they want to do away altogether with the need to burn oil....

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