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Shipping Heavyweights at Risk of Missing Climate Targets

London – WEBWIRE
  • Shipping companies failing to push for the critical technologies required to reduce their carbon footprint, such as emission-free ships.
  • Slowing down ships can reduce emissions by around 30% but this is a short-term solution with commercial hurdles.
  • Shipping is the least emissions intensive way of moving cargo but with freight demand on the rise, companies must find ways of reducing emissions further.
  • NYK Line and Maersk lead in business readiness for a low-carbon transition with NS United KK and COSCO S.ET lagging.

The world’s shipping heavyweights are not investing in key technologies to reduce their carbon footprint, with the sector at risk of not meeting the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050. This is revealed in a new report ‘A Sea Change’ from the environmental non-profit and investment research provider CDPtoday. The report ranks 18 of the largest publicly listed shipping companies, representing US$62 billion of market capitalization, on business readiness for a low-carbon transition.

Shipping accounts for up to 3% of global emissions and 10% of transport emissions - roughly the same as aviation – and is an integral part of the global economy, transporting around 80% of the world’s trade in physical goods. Marine freight is the least emissions intensive way of moving cargo, but freight demand is on the rise, which will require the sector to rapidly reduce its carbon emissions.

Against the backdrop of the IMO’s recent strategy to reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2050, there is heightened pressure on shipping companies to take a long-term approach in curbing their carbon footprint. To date Maersk, HMM and Norden are the most ambitious in setting long-term targets to reduce carbon emissions, consistent with the IMO’s strategy. However, the report finds there is a gap between the cutting-edge carbon neutral technologies available to companies, and the forms of innovation they are developing.

CDP’s analysis of marine innovations finds that only three are actively developing technologies that can have a transformative impact on the industry. Companies such as NYK are working towards developing zero-emission vessels for 2050, whilst Maersk and NORDEN are actively pioneering the use of ‘second generation’ biofuels produced from waste sources such as cooking oil. Wider innovation trends currently focus on technologies and fuels that only deliver marginal improvements.

Slow steaming – slowing down ships significantly below their maximum speed - is an important short-term solution capable of reducing carbon emissions by up to 30%1. 13 of the 18 companies were found to have a formal slow steaming policy including K Line, HMM, Euronav and COSCO S.H who have established ‘super slow steaming’ policies. Although slow steaming is positive in the short term, it could result in more voyages to meet growing demand, eroding the emission reductions made by slowing down ships.

The research also finds that whilst Container companies which carry consumer goods such as clothing and food are resilient to long-term decarbonization trends, they are facing increasing scrutiny and pressure as their customers look to cut emissions from their supply chain. On the other hand, Bulk and Tanker companies that transport fossil fuels and other commodities face risks from changes in demand for these products due to wider decarbonization trends.

Carole Ferguson, Head of Investor Research, CDP commented“Shipping companies are facing a sea change on the horizon. Based on current technologies, marine freight is one of the least emissions intensive modes of transport, therefore critical to the low-carbon transition. But as the global economy grows, the industry could account for 17% of global emissions by 2050, if nothing is done.

Against the backdrop of the IMO’s targets, the industry needs to drive collaboration with the manufacturers of vessels and shipping technologies to develop the step change innovations needed to have any chance of meeting these goals. Separately, our recent analysis of the capital goods sector also shows that these manufacturers are much more focused on transformative change in power generation and other areas of transport than in technology solutions for the shipping sector.

While it is promising to see that leading companies are acting, with Maersk and HMM setting net zero emission targets for 2050 and exploring alternative fuels, the onus must be on the whole sector to jump start their shift into a low-carbon future.”

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Retrofitting existing fleets could be the most efficient strategy over the short term before more transformative technologies become viable – 14 companies show evidence of retrofitting which includes derating engines and the installation of new propellers.
  • Low-carbon fuels - including biofuels, hydrogen and ammonia - can deliver significant emission reductions. However, these are underdeveloped with only Norden and Maersk showing evidence of supporting the development of second-generation biofuels.
  • As a sector faced with low margins and high debt, it’s challenging to secure the required financing to innovate. This requires collaboration with Original Equipment Manufacturers.
  • Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plays a significant role as a transition fuel in the IEA’s below 2°C scenarios, presenting a growth opportunity for ships carrying LNG out to 2040.
  • The shipping sector has poor rates of disclosure – only 5 companies in the universe completed CDP’s 2018 Climate Change questionnaire, and only 4 are official supporters of Mark Carney’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).
  • Board level oversight of climate issues is very low compared to other sectors. Only three companies have a formal climate committee at the board level.

CDP’s League Table of companies in the shipping sector: (


Read the executive summary of the report.

1 Newcastle University study, 2014

Scope and methodology: Full details of the scope of the report and methodology used are included in the full version of the report. For the full report please contact

About CDP and this report

About CDP

CDP is an international non-profit that drives companies and governments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, safeguard water resources and protect forests. Voted number one climate research provider by investors and working with institutional investors with assets of US$96 trillion, we leverage investor and buyer power to motivate companies to disclose and manage their environmental impacts. Over 7,000 companies with over 50% of global market capitalization disclosed environmental data through CDP in 2018. This is in addition to the over 750 cities, states and regions who disclosed, making CDP’s platform one of the richest sources of information globally on how companies and governments are driving environmental change. CDP, formerly Carbon Disclosure Project, is a founding member of the We Mean Business Coalition. Visit or follow us @CDP to find out more.

The report

This research is part of a series of award-winning in-depth sector analysis by CDP to provide investors with the most comprehensive environmental data analysis. It aims to identify the most material metrics for each specific sector and how they link to financial performance. Our methodology is unique as the weighting assigned to each metric is transparent and can be applied individually according to investor preferences. These rankings are not intended to identify definitive winners and losers for investment purposes, but rather to indicate strategic advantage in an industry where there is a significant regulatory impact on all major markets.

Reports on the oil & gas, steel, cement, automotive, electric utilities, chemicals, mining, capital goods and consumer goods industries were released between 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

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