Maritime transport is the backbone of international trade and a key engine driving globalization. Around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent by value is carried by sea and is handled by ports worldwide; these shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries.
UNCTAD's Review of Maritime Transport has provided 44 years of uninterrupted coverage of the key developments affecting international seaborne trade, shipping, the world fleet, ports, freight markets, and transport-related regulatory and legal frameworks. The Review also covers inland transport and intermodal connections. Keeping track of both long-term trends and the latest developments, the Review has become a standard reference work in its field.
In common with previous issues, the 2012 Review contains critical analysis and a wealth of unique data, including long-term data series on seaborne trade, fleet capacity, shipping services and port handling activities. This year's Review notes that world seaborne trade grew by 4 per cent in 2011, whereas the tonnage of the world fleet grew at a greater rate, by almost 10 per cent, as shipowners took delivery of vessels that had been ordered before the economic crisis began. With supply outstripping demand, freight rates fell even further, to unprofitable levels for most shipping companies. For importers and exporters, however, the low freight rates helped to reduce transaction costs, which is important for helping to revive global trade.
As freight traffic continues to grow, the question of how to ensure the long-term sustainability of such growth is playing an increasingly important part in the policy debate on globalization, trade and development, environmental sustainability, energy security and climate change. Reflecting these new realities, this year's Review of Maritime Transport addresses a range of relevant issues in this context and includes a special chapter on sustainable freight transport. This chapter highlights the impacts of freight transport activity, for example on the environment, human health and the climate, and the consequent need to reduce the sector's energy consumption and emissions.
If left unchecked, such unsustainable patterns are likely to intensify, increasing the potential for global energy and environmental crises, and risk undermining progress being made on sustainable development and growth. Promoting a shift towards sustainable freight transport will help improve the sector's energy efficiency, reduce its heavy reliance on oil, and limit environmental and climate change impacts. In this context, developing effective policies and measures, including for the purpose of climate change mitigation and adaptation, and ensuring appropriate financing, are major challenges, especially for developing countries. Governments and the industry are becoming increasingly aware of the need to mainstream sustainability criteria into their transport planning and policies, and it is hoped that this year's Review of Maritime Transport will assist policymakers in their efforts to promote sustainable freight transport systems.
Secretary-General of UNCTAD