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Maritime transport seeking to reduce scope 3 emissions

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By Diego Balverde

· 3 min read

The pollution generated by cargo ships, which use heavy or intermediate fuels to carry tons of cargo on their journeys, is well-known, but it also affects their operations and navigation maneuvers.

Asian ships save 6,000 km by going through the Arctic, representing 40% of the current traffic with over 100 million tons mobilized. These figures are continually increasing, and maritime logistics contributes to the contamination and destruction of the Arctic ecosystem. The accumulation of emissions and spills due to scarce control in the area accelerates the process of ice thawing, impacting not only the visual beauty of the landscape but also destroying flora that is home to unique fauna.

The right way

In the climate change sector, it is well-known that Scope 3 emissions are the most complex one to correctly calculate. The industry's emissions calculation should consider factors such as the cost of the route (in kilometers or hours of navigation) from where a product is collected until it is delivered to the final port. We will refer to these cumulative emissions as "y," which indirectly contributes to a product's manufacturing by another sector.

To illustrate this, let's consider the emissions generated by each unit of an iPhone 14 during production. The iPhone 14 produces 61 kg of CO2 emissions solely during its manufacture, but these figures are underestimated, as the actual emissions over 4 years of use are approximately 313 kg.

A total of 96 million phones were manufactured, resulting in a direct emission of 5.6 trillion tons of CO2. These figures emphasize the importance of taking responsibility for our products at every stage to mitigate the environmental impact of cell phone production.

The impact of maritime logistics

On average, maritime transport consumes between 250 to 350 liters of intermediate fuel oil, according to public data from Technoton hardware implemented worldwide through Wialon for fuel control in cargo ships. The established average delay times from Shanghai to Los Angeles range from 15 to 20 days. If we consider 20 days, multiplying by 24 hours per day equals 480 hours of navigation. By multiplying this result by the liters of consumption per hour (300 liters), we obtain 2,880 metric tons of intermediate fuel oil, releasing 0.777 kilos of CO2 per ton. This means that each trip from Shanghai to Los Angeles emits 2.238 tons of CO2.

The pollution produced by the maritime transport sector often goes unnoticed due to its occurrence on the high seas. However, for coastal areas and port cities, maritime traffic is a significant source of air pollution, posing a serious threat to public health and the environment. According to various scientific studies, the European Commission estimates that air pollutant emissions from ships lead to 50,000 premature deaths and 60,000 million euros in healthcare costs annually in the European Union.

Lapidary report

At the Institute for Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies (CSIC) in Barcelona, their team measured a group of substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are primarily produced during the burning of oil and coal. Incomplete combustion generates these hydrocarbons. Approximately 90,000 tons of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons reach the oceans from the atmosphere each month, which is four times more than the amount generated by the Gulf of Mexico spill, considered the largest in history.

Regarding carbon dioxide emission factors, intermediate fuel oil generates 77.4 tons of CO2/TJ, significantly higher than the emission factors for CNG and other gaseous fuels, which typically revolve around 50 tons. A "TJ" is equal to one trillion joules or approximately 0.278 GWh, commonly used in energy tables. For perspective, the atomic bomb that exploded over Hiroshima released about 63 TJ of energy.


It is time for companies to hire environmental advisors to develop strategies for reducing emissions that align with their immediate, medium, and long-term needs. Reducing emissions without increasing costs is achievable, and the solutions lie in both cost reduction and emissions reduction.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Dr. Diego Balverde is an Economist at the European Central Bank and has extensive experience in climate finance. He is currently also an Advisory Member of the Council of Foreign Trade at The World Bank. Diego is very active on the international sustainability stage having attended COP27 as a Circular economy for Climate Change specialist and will also be attending the G20 Conference in India as part of the Energy, Sustainability and Climate Task Force. Diego holds a PhD in Foreign trade from Chapman University and an MBA degree from Cambridge Judge Business School.

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