Low Carbon Shipping & Shipping in Changing Climates

A Research Led Consortium on Sustainable Shipping


Low Carbon Shipping


Shipping was estimated in 2007 to account for 3.3% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. In the second International Maritime Organisation (IMO) GreenHouse Gas (GHG) study (Buhaug et al., 2009), it was predicted in that study that shipping would account for between 12-18% of global CO2 emissions by 2050 if no action is taken to reduce emissions from shipping (allowing for no greater than 2°C global temperature rise by 2100). Compounding the issue, the life expectancy of the world’s oil and gas reserves, from which the vast majority of shipping fuels are derived, is increasingly measured in decades (International Energy Agency, 2008). The RCUK (Research Councils UK, a source for government funding of research in the UK) Energy programme, recognising the need for further research in this subject, issued a call for proposals on low carbon shipping in 2009. Three proposals were successful, one of which, “Low Carbon Shipping – A Systems Approach” was submitted by the consortium including University College London, Newcastle University, University of Strathclyde, University of Hull and University of Plymouth and supported by a number of industry partners. The core funding of the consortium’s effort (~£1.5m) came from RCUK, with additional staff time and PhD studentships being provided by support from four core industry partners, Shell, Lloyd’s Register, BMT and Rolls-Royce.


Project Aims

In 2010, the consortium believed, that there was a lack of a holistic understanding of the shipping industry. Its drawn out contractual, technological and financial evolution having obscured access to both top-down and bottom-up system level understanding of its sensitivities and left many commercial habits engrained and unchanged for literally hundreds of years. The project aims were:
1. To develop knowledge and understanding of the shipping system, particularly the relationship between its principal components, transport logistics and ship designs, and clarify the many complex interfaces in the shipping industry (port operations, owner/operator relationships, contractual agreements and the links to other transport modes).
2. To deploy that understanding to explore future logistical and ship concepts and how they could achieve cost-effective reduction of carbon emissions.
3. To develop projections for future trends in the demand for shipping, the impacts of technical and policy solutions and their associated implementation barriers, and the most just measurement and apportionment mechanisms.

To achieve these overarching aims, required a multidisciplinary team (geographers, economists, naval architects, marine engineers, human factor experts and energy modellers) and the division of the work into 6 work packages, from which outputs are collated to provide inputs into the holistic analysis carried out in:
WP1 - Modelling led by Dr Tristan Smith, UCLWP2 - Technologies for low carbon shipping led by Professor Sandy Day, Strathclyde
WP3 - Shipping, ports and logistics [led by Professor John Mangan, Newcastle, Professor David Gibbs, Hull and Professor Chandra Lalwani, Hull
WP4 - Shipping economics led by Miss Melanie Landamore, Newcastle and Professor John Dinwoodie, Plymouth
WP5 - Regulation, policy and incentivises led by Dr Tristan Smith, UCL
WP6 - Human Factors & Ship operations led by Professor Osman Turan, Strathclyde



Connecting outputs from each of these WPs was also carried out through the collaborative analysis of five cross-cutting research questions:
RQ1 - The relationship between transport logistics and future ship designs (e.g. novel propulsion systems) and their impact on the efficiencies of the whole system, e.g. port operations, human factors, the supply chain, including integration with other modes such as air, rail and road.
RQ2 - Demand for shipping: looking at the drivers for using shipping (for freight and people) over other modes.
RQ3 - The impacts of technical and policy solutions on future shipping scenarios.
RQ4 - Implementation barriers to low carbon shipping.
RQ5 - Measurement and apportionment: how best to measure the impact of shipping and optimise environmental gain in an international context



The research findings have been mainly produced through paper publications, both through the consortiums international annual conferences and through peer reviewed journals. The low carbon shipping project has created impact through its research and off-shoot projects, such as:

International Maritime Organisation - in collaboration with NGOs who have membership of the IMO, we has contributed to publications that are used to inform policy developments for international regulation of shipping’s GHG emissions.

Committee on Climate Change - consultation processes facilitated by the British Chamber of Shipping and ongoing dialogues regarding the estimation and forecast of shipping's emissions that are attributable to the UK.

International Energy Agency - development of a shipping module in the IEA's mobility model, to provide estimates of forecast GHG emissions from the shipping industry and the impact of mitigation strategies. The model will be used for policy making and to inform the IEA's regular publications (World Energy Outlook, Energy Technology Perspectives).

"Energy Environment and Transport" - authoring a chapter "low carbon shipping" of this forthcoming book for policy makers and researchers

Carbon War Room - collaboration for events including those associated with the website "shippingefficiency.org" and the international summit "Creating Climate Wealth London", to stimulate the removal of market barriers and facilitate commercial opportunities that will reduce the shipping industry's GHG emissions

Sustainable Shipping Initiative - through secondments of PhD students to help with research in the financing and technology work streams


Project duration

January 2010 to June 2013