Issues in Brief, No. 34, March 2017

Conspicuously Absent: Shipping Emissions in Climate Change Policy

By Rebecca Cowing
March 2017 (8 Pages)
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The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement relies on state actors to meet self-determined greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets by self-determined means. In this Issues in Brief, Rebecca Cowing explores the unique emissions reduction challenges posed by the integrated, multi-state nature of maritime shipping. Ninety percent of all international trade by volume is transported by ship, accounting for nearly three percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. While the world’s highest-emitting countries set goals to cap or reduce emissions in the near future, marine shipping emissions continue to rise, and are expected to account for 6-14 percent of the global share by 2050. Cowing explores the question of who “owns” shipping emissions and presents the four options under consideration for the past two decades for allocating those emissions to individual countries. She concludes that without a robust methodology for assigning responsibility of shipping emissions and the proper incentives for states to include these emissions in their national totals, it will be nearly impossible to meaningfully reduce emissions from the sector.

Rebecca Cowing is a 2016 graduate of Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies with a Master’s in International Relations and Environmental Policy. Her master’s thesis examined the complexities of international maritime shipping and the difficulties surrounding the mitigation of the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. She currently works for the World Wildlife Fund in the Chinese Markets division.