Emissions and health impacts from global shipping embodied in US–China bilateral trade


Global shipping activity emits 938 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, surpassing the eighth highest emitting country. Although the impacts from the shipping industry have been investigated over the past three decades, allocating responsibilities remains a difficult issue. Numerous parties should share the responsibility and quantitative analysis is therefore required when considering the interaction between the global economy, shipping and ecological connectivity. Here, beginning with our shipping emission inventory model based on satellite-observed vessel activities, we evaluated trade-embodied shipping emissions and their impacts on human health. Combined with international trade databases, we traced shipping impacts back to responsible bilateral trade and proposed an integrated trade–shipping–air quality–health impact nexus. Quantitative analysis shows that the US–China bilateral trade is responsible for 2.5% of the global shipping carbon dioxide emissions and 4.8% of ship-related global premature deaths caused by air pollution. Our research provides the methodology to allocate intercontinental responsibilities to trade pairs and ships.

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Fig. 1: US–China trade-embodied shipping emissions.
Fig. 2: CO2 emissions per value embodied in sea-transport for typical commodity sectors.
Fig. 3: Geographic distribution of shipping emissions and related premature deaths embodied in the US–China trade in 2016.
Fig. 4: Emissions and health consequences in the supply chain for the US–China bilateral trade in 2016.
Fig. 5: US–China trade-related global share from different perspectives.

Data availability

Data are constrained to third-party restrictions. The AIS data and the trade commodity data between China and the US are used under licence for the current study and are not publicly available. Emission data are available from the corresponding author upon request.

Code availability

Python codes used during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant nos. 41822505, 91544110, 41571447 and 41625020) and the National Key Research and Development Programme (grant nos. 2016YFC0201504 and 2016YFC0201506). H.L. was supported by the Energy Foundation (grant no. G-1708-26724) and the Beijing Nova Programme (grant no. Z181100006218077). We thank Q. Li, Z. Guo, C. Qu and W. Liu for discussions on statistics.

Author information




H.L. conceived and led the study. Z.-H.M. established the model and the connections between emissions and commodities. Z.-F.L. and F.-Y.D. helped with data processing. Q.Z. and Y.L. performed the GEOS–Chem model simulation. X.-T.W. and Y.-N.Z. helped collect the marine logistics information and process the massive data matching. M.-S.S. worked on the trade dataset. Q.Z. and K.-B.H. provided important views on the study.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Huan Liu or Qiang Zhang or Ke-Bin He.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary methods, Figs. 1–10, Tables 1–9 and refs.

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Liu, H., Meng, Z., Lv, Z. et al. Emissions and health impacts from global shipping embodied in US–China bilateral trade. Nat Sustain 2, 1027–1033 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0414-z

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