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Ecorys and Lancaster University reveal hidden costs of large-scale commercial shipping in the Arctic

On 2 August new research of Ecorys and Lancaster University Management School finds increased commercial shipping in Arctic waters triggered by climate change, risking trillions of dollars in environmental costs over the next two centuries – with Africa and South Asia bearing the brunt.

Recent academic studies have shown that:

  • Travel distances between East Asia and Europe could be decreased by as much as 40% as the Northern Sea Route becomes increasingly accessible due to shrinking polar sea ice cap; 
  • Up to 5% of the world's trade could be shipped through the Northern Sea Route if it is navigable all year round, which is set to benefit the economies in multiple European and East Asian countries. 
The new scientific study published in the journal Climatic Change found:
  • Current forecasts of economic benefits of the Northern Sea Route do not account for the acceleration of climate change caused by Arctic shipping;  
  • This acceleration, driven by ‘shifting’ emissions to the sensitive Arctic environment, could add around $2 trillion to the cost of climate change, spread over the next two centuries; 
  • Europe and East Asia are expected to benefit from reduced trade costs, whilst Africa and South Asia will bear most of the costs due to changes in emissions; 
  • Put in a global perspective, this environmental cost can offset 25 to 33% of the projected trade-driven economic gains from Arctic shipping growth.
The researchers recommend a number of mitigating strategies that could mitigate climatic impacts, including: regulating emission levels, imposing obligatory slow steaming areas, taxing emissions or incentivising cleaner shipping.
The study was co-led by Dr Dmitry Yumashev (Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business, Lancaster University Management School) and Karel van Hussen (Ecorys) as part of the EU-funded ICE-ARC project.
For more information, please contact:
Karel van Hussen, Ecorys
T +31 10 4538 577