CO2 emissions per container handled

Shippers, shipping companies and scientists are increasingly concerned with calculating the carbon footprint of transport chains.

Owing to the many external factors that those involved in port logistics are unable to influence, comparisons of the energy efficiency of individual terminals do not say very much. For instance, outdoor temperatures caused by climate and geography have a direct impact on a terminal’s energy consumption. But also the 20’ and 40’ share of containers or the utilisation rate of a terminal have a direct impact on specific CO2 emissions. Comparisons of how a terminal develops over a period of time, while to a large extent taking external factors into account, are more telling.

In analyzing transport chains a distinction is made between CO2 emissions caused by transport and those caused by handling. The former primarily depend on choice of mode of transport and the distance, while those from cargo handling depend on the volume of goods handled.

The transport chain for a container’s journey can be divided into various segments, with a specific quantity of CO2 emissions attributed to each. The actual transport of a container on global chains accounts for well over 90% of its indirect greenhouse gas emissions, while the proportion of CO2 emissions from handling at terminals is correspondingly minimal. Taking a standard container transported from Shanghai to Prague as an example, this becomes clear. Transport is via a HHLA container terminal in Hamburg, with a ultra-large -containership with slots for 13,000 TEU taken as the size of ship used.

Absolute CO2 emissions
Proportion thereof
Sea voyage
Shanghai – Hamburg
(19.879 km)
1,739 kg
90.9 %
Handling in
the Port of Hamburg
10 kg
0.5 %
Rail transport
Hamburg – Prague
157 kg
8.2 %
Handling at Prague rail terminal
7 kg
0.4 %
1,913 kg
100 %

Source: International Maritime Organisation, 2009 and IFEU Heidelberg 2008,
www.ecotransit.org and www.searates.com - own calculations


The trend in CO2 emissions at the three Hamburg container terminals and the container terminal in Odessa operated by HPC Ukraina over a period of time has been as follows:

CO2 emissions
CO2 emission*
    68,809 To
            8.8 kg
71,559 To
9.2 kg
68,161 To
9.4 kg

* The specific CO2 emission is defined as the total CO2 emission divided by the total number of containers handled offshore and onshore.