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World - What's the Shipping Industry Doing To Slash Carbon Emissions?

Today’s gigantic diesel fuel-reliant container ships, decks overloaded with cargo, are still a common sight in harbours from New York to Hong Kong. But the days of these gargantuan vessels, driven by massive internal combustion engines, may be numbered.

In January 2010, an “unpowered” wooden sailing vessel more than 70 years old, the tres hombres, arrived in Port-au-Prince carrying desperately needed earthquake relief supplies from Dutch humanitarian organisations for the people of Haiti. Although not the first contemporary version of “green logistics,” tres hombres — propelled by a trio of clean energy technologies: sails, wind turbines and recycled vegetable oil — epitomised the entrepreneurial spirit of today’s retro-revolutionary sail freight movement.

To many maritime experts, tres hombres’ cross-ocean journey stands out as a symbol of the rebirth of cargo-carrying wind power — incorporating a marriage of old and new technologies becoming a viable alternative to fossil fuel-powered ships on the open sea.

Today’s gigantic diesel fuel-reliant container ships, decks overloaded with cargo, are still a common sight in harbours from New York to Hong Kong. But the days of these gargantuan vessels, driven by massive internal combustion engines, may be numbered.

Carbon emissions in shipping

Despite the present dominance of fossil-fuelled cargo ships, it’s well understood by industry insiders that the current maritime logistics system is both ageing and fragile.

Fossil fuel transport today is up against a grim carbon reality: if ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. International shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. international maritime organisation’s most recent data.

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