Seas and oceans are largely affected by man-made pollution. Among the polluting factors are both land waste and the debris left in the waters by ships and sea transportation.

A polluting component is also represented by commercial ships and by cruise ships. In this dossier, we analyze the proposal to establish a research fund to build zero-carbon ships and provide some data on the state of global water pollution.

A fund to build zero-emissions ships

To develop zero-carbon ships, the international organization ICS (International Chamber of Shipping) and its industrial partners have proposed the creation of a $ 5 billion fund, financed by a mandatory tax of $ 2 per tonne of marine fuel emitted for 10 years.

ICS believes this approach to be essential in order to accelerate the research and development efforts that will be required to build zero-carbon ships in the next 10-15 years. The Fund will support the research, development and dissemination of zero-carbon technologies by carrying out pilot projects and tertiary research. The Fund (known as the International Maritime Research and Development Board) would be supervised by IMO member countries and established by an amendment to Marpol, the IMO Convention for the prevention of pollution from ships. According to estimates, shipping will have to improve its carbon efficiency by about 90% to reach the goal of a 50% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.


“International shipping – reads a joint statement from the main international maritime organizations (Bimco, Clia, Imca, Intercargo, Interferry, International Chamber of Shipping, Intertanko, Ipta and World Shipping Council) – carries over 80% of global trade and emits 2% of global emissions. The big challenge is not to build a single ship with zero CO2 emissions, the big challenge is to create the technologies necessary to decarbonise the entire global fleet quickly and on a large scale. “

The proposal was presented on March 10, 2021 to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and is supported by governments that control an important share of global shipping (including Georgia, Greece, Japan, Liberia, Malta, Nigeria, Palau, Singapore, Swiss). The next appointment will be in June, in London, at the next IMO committee. The fund will then have to be approved in November 2021, coinciding with the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 26, that will be held in Glasgow, Scotland.

Cruise ships pollution

A report published in June 2019 by “Transport & Environment“, a European coalition of associations engaged in the fight against air pollution, highlighted that in many port cities, cruise ships are a great source of polluting emissions, in some cases even greater than road traffic.

In the text, researchers reconstructed the movements of 203 cruise ships in 2017 within the exclusive economic zone of European nations. Overall, cruise ships consumed 3,267 kilotons of fuel, emitting into the atmosphere 10,286 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), 155 of nitrogen oxides (NOX), 62 of sulfur oxides (SOX) and 10 of particulate matter (PM).

According to the researchers, the total 141 cruise ships that sailed the Italian seas in 2017 released a quantity of nitrogen oxides equal to 17 percent of the amount produced by the almost 38 million vehicles registered in Italy. Cruises ships’ emissions therefore represent about 12 percent of those released by all vehicles. According to the “Transport & Energy” report, the worst port in Europe is Barcelona, ​​followed by Palma de Mallorca, Venice, Civitavecchia and Southampton.

WHO DOES WHAT: The UN and Goal 14 of the 2030 Agenda

Conserving and using the oceans, seas and marine resources in a sustainable way is the 14th goal of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. Goal 14 aims to significantly reduce all types of marine pollution by 2025, and to minimize ocean acidification. According to the United Nations’ plans, marine and coastal ecosystems had to be managed and protected in a sustainable way and fisheries regulated effectively by 2020. The objective also aims to put a limit on illegal and unregulated activities, such as overfishing in the seas. Destructive practices will also have to be eradicated and some forms of fishing subsidies banned.

Oceans cover three quarters of the earth’s surface, containing 97% of the water present on Earth and representing 99% of the space, in terms of volume, occupied on the planet by living organisms. More than 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods and, globally, the estimated market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is $ 3 trillion annually, or about 5% of world GDP.

Oceans absorb about 30% of human-produced carbon dioxide, thus mitigating the impact of global warming on the Earth. They also represent the largest reserve of protein in the world, with more than 3 billion people depending on the oceans as a primary resource of proteins. 40% of the world’s oceans are heavily influenced by human activities, the impact of which includes pollution, the depletion of fish stocks and the loss of natural habitats along the coasts.

FOCUS 1: Who is polluting seas and oceans

Every minute, the size of a truck of plastic waste ends up in the sea. The WWF estimates that 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of plastic waste is spilled into marine waters every year. Still according to estimates, at least 86 million tons of plastic have already ended up in the seas, a good part of which has deposited on the seabed. Water is also ridden with microplastics, derived from the abrasion of tires, from the washing of synthetic fabrics or from the disintegration of plastic waste that can be absorbed by marine organisms.

80% of marine pollution is produced on land, while 20% is waste from the sea (for example, fishermen’s nets or fuels). Another problem is represented by fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals. According to the organization, almost every living thing that populates the seas is now contaminated with chemicals.

FOCUS 2: Three good practices

Now approaches have been developed for the protection of the seas. Three are those reported by the WWF. The first initiative takes us off the coast of Malaysia, where the Tun Mustapha Park was established. Tun Mustapha is a new marine reserve which, rather than placing a small area under strict protection, aims to manage a large territory in compliance with the principles of sustainability. The Park provides a source of livelihood for over 80,000 people: 100 tons of fish are caught every day using sustainable methods.

The second method is being experimented in Mozambique. Thanks to the no-fishing areas, fish stocks reproduce more quickly and eventually fishermen can catch more fish of larger size. The third concerns Belize: the country aims to develop its coastal areas in a long-term perspective instead of investing in fruitful projects focused on the short term. In collaboration with the WWF, the government drew up a plan that describes the ways in which Belize can use its natural treasures in the context of sustainable tourism.