The climate economics of the world’s 6,000 superyachts: ‘It’s not a completely rational decision’

9 Min Read

Yacht Marie Uzcategui GettyImages 2005960724 e1717768027423

Superyachts are the ultimate status symbol for royal families, oligarchs and billionaires, from Jeff Bezos to Bernard Arnault. The floating palaces are a source of fascination and secrecy – and of greenhouse gas emissions.

The planet-warming pollution caused by luxury ships that benefit only a few has led lifestyle social scientist Gregory Salle to call them a form of “ecocide” and “conspicuous seclusion” in his new book, Superyachts: Luxury, Tranquility and Ecocide .

There are almost 6,000 superyachts – meaning ships over 30 meters (100 feet) – at sea, according to a report earlier this year from media and market intelligence company SuperYacht Times. The total has quadrupled in the past thirty years.

“It’s hard to think of a sign of wealth more convincing than owning a superyacht,” says Salle, a professor at France’s University of Lille.

The concentration of wealth has not only led to the explosion of superyachts. It has also led to a split in per capita emissions, with the wealthiest living the highest carbon-emitting lifestyles.

According to research by Oxfam, the richest 10% of the world are already responsible for half of the world’s CO2 emissions. The nonprofit found that it would take 1,500 years for someone in the bottom 99% of cases to emit as much carbon as one of the world’s top billionaires. The emissions of the ultra-rich come from a variety of sources, including large houses and frequent air travel. But according to a 2021 study, superyachts are their biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The annual CO2 emissions of the top 300 superyachts amount to almost 285,000 tonnes, according to Salle’s book, an amount more than that of the entire country of Tonga.

Superyachts are also more than climate polluters. Waste water, noise and light pollution, particulate matter in the exhaust fumes and even the place where ships moor can have a negative effect on the local environment. These disproportionate consequences are why Salle has called the ships a form of ecocide.

See also  Populist buzzsaw puts Democrats on the defensive on climate

The term – coined in the 1970s – refers to the deliberate destruction of nature and has often been used to describe the actions of the wealthy, given their excessive ecological footprint. In 2021, lawyers proposed codifying ecocide into international criminal law, putting it on a par with genocide. European Union lawmakers voted earlier this year to criminalize environmental damage “similar to ecocide.” Whether the new law will be used to prosecute the use of superyachts remains to be seen.

Some owners are aware of the dangers their vessels pose to the environment. Jeff Bezos’ $500 million superyacht Koru set sail in April 2023 to fuel its journey. However, it still has diesel engines. Oxfam estimates that the 127-meter-long ship emitted 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide last year, an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 445 average Americans.

That estimate is also almost certainly on the low side, because the calculations take into account the fact that the yacht is on standby and not in transit. The number also does not include Koru’s companion yacht, Abeona, a 75-metre motor yacht that functions as a garage with a helipad and jet skis.

The sails on Bezos’ ship are an exception: the vast majority of superyachts are powered solely by an engine. Only eight new sail constructions were completed in 2023, compared to the 195 new motor yachts.

Understanding a superyacht’s true carbon emissions is incredibly difficult due to a lack of data collected and the inherent secretive nature of sailing, according to Malcolm Jacotine, founder of superyacht consultancy Three Sixty Marine. Based on International Maritime Organization data, Jacotine estimates that emissions from yachts will reach 10 million tonnes by 2030 if the sector adopts a ‘business as usual’ approach.

See also  World’s Best Banks 2024—Western Europe

To help owners understand the impact of their boats, he has developed two carbon emissions calculators. However, they have limitations because they rely on voluntarily reported data and estimated tons of diesel fuel.

Yachts spend 10% to 20% of the year sailing and relying on engine power. According to Robert van Tol, director of the Water Revolution Foundation, the boats only reach top speed 0.1% of the year. The rest of the year the ship is a floating hotel and is dependent on generators that are needed for a longer period of time and, according to Jacotine’s calculations, emit more CO2.

Yet the emissions data is collected by boat, and one yacht can travel more in a year than another, driving up emissions from travel, Oxfam researchers said. Yachts are exempt from the International Marine Organization’s emissions rules, so the actual emissions from any boat are difficult to discern. That reflects how superyachts are both flashy and somewhat unknowable.

“Superyachts are made to be noticed,” says Salle. “But [they] They are also vehicles that are really secretive, in the sense that you can’t go in unless you’re invited.”

In new construction, the emphasis is less on engines that reach top speeds and more on saving energy in hotel mode. But sustainability may not be at the forefront of purchasing decisions.

“It’s not a completely rational decision to buy a yacht,” says Ralph Dazert, head of intelligence at media and market insights firm SuperYacht Times. “It’s quite emotional because it costs you an absolute fortune.”

According to Dazert, the total value of yachts sold in 2023 was €4.6 billion ($4.9 billion). He said the move toward sustainability will be largely driven by shipyards and engineers adding features to new construction, including the use of recycled materials. New types of fuel can also reduce emissions.

See also  Luxury homes on these beaches are losing value fast, as effects of climate change hit hard

This year, Italian shipbuilder Sanlorenzo will test the first 50-meter steel yacht powered by hydrogen fuel cells, and another 114-meter yacht from German shipbuilder Lürssen with the same technology is in production by 2025 for Apple Inc.’s former watchmaker developer Marc News about.

But the larger the build, the longer the wait time. That means it will take years for some of these features to appear on the high seas, according to Jacotine.

In an effort to clean up the image of superyachts, some owners are making their yachts available for research and exploration. That includes a new 195-meter yacht, owned by Norwegian billionaire Kjell Inge Rokke, that will launch in 2026 with more than 50 scientists to study the ocean. (It’s also available for custom cruises.)

While public criticism is mounting, superyachting is a customer-driven industry. And for most buyers, luxury still trumps climate concerns. Salle noted that superyachts, like many luxury items, are not just products. They are representative of a ‘lifestyle’, one that is currently closely linked to carbon-intensive activities.

“Ecocide is something that causes deep damage, damage that lasts over time,” Salle said. “You could apply this to something [superyachts] what we do, not just individually… but globally.”

Share This Article
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *