The Panama Canal expansion will allow bigger ships with more cargo to pass from the Pacific to the Caribbean, which could result in less greenhouse gas emissions per volume of cargo shipped.
Paul Stott and Peter Wright of Newcastle University believes the $6 billion canal expansion will allow new ships to be built beyond the 32.3 meter (106 feet) breadth restriction, known as the panamax. Wider ships can carry more cargo with proportionately less fuel, the researchers stated in the International Journal of Maritime Engineering.
"This is a great example of unintended consequences," said Stott in a press release.
"The potential savings in fuel costs are substantial, as is the consequent reduction in emissions, potentially saving up to 16% per tonne-mile," said Stott.
"This is important given that the International Maritime Organization estimates that shipping was responsible for about 2.7% of global emissions of CO2 in 2007 but warns that this may rise to between 12% and 18% by 2050 if the shipping industry does not take major steps to reduce emissions," Stott said.