The increase in the number of liners, the distances traveled and the number of passengers are pushing global emissions upwards. And this, while the regulations are struggling to follow.
Damage caused by cruise ships has been in the news this summer. While in Venice one of them violently hit a quay, the European NGO Transport & Environment calculated that the giants of the seas of Carnival Corporation, the world leader in luxury cruises, alone emit 10 times more sulfur oxides than the 260 million cars circulating in Europe, which contributes to deteriorating air quality and acidifying natural environments. The company defended itself by arguing that it is not really a scientific study and that, on the contrary, its environmental record tends to improve.
On average, the quantities of sulfur and nitrogen oxides emitted by each liner have actually decreased since several regions of the world, starting with Europe and then North America, introduced stricter limits for ships docking in certain emission-controlled zones in the 2000s. According to the European NGO, the standard is however 100 times less stringent for boats than for cars and we could do better. Various places very popular with cruise passengers, such as the Mediterranean or most of the Caribbean, escape this regulation and the controls are insufficient.
In 2018, a first fine was imposed in Europe on the captain of a Carnival group ship that used fuel that did not meet the standards. The company was also fined $40 million in 2016 for discharging oil at sea, then $20 million this year after it admitted falsifying inspection documents and discharging sewage and waste in Alaska as well as in the Bahamas.
Globally, the cruise industry emitted 21 million tonnes of GHGs in 2017, calculated the Griffith Institute for Tourism, an Australian research center that analyzes the environmental impacts of tourism. On average, each cruise passenger emitted the equivalent in GHGs of a London-Tokyo return flight. Carnival says it has reduced its GHG emissions intensity by 27% from 2005 to 2018. But the rapid increase in the number of ships, the distances traveled and the number of passengers as well as the slow pace of technical improvements and the difficulties in regulating the industry push global emissions higher. Around 26 million tourists took a cruise in 2017, twice as many as in 2005.