Climate Change: Ending a “Free Ride” for the Global Shipping Industry

Climate change will have devastating effects on our oceans.  Scientists have predicted that business as usual will cause a massive extinction of corals by the middle of this century – just a few decades away.   Since coral reefs are the backbone of much of our ocean life, losing our reefs will have even broader effects on marine ecosystems.

The massive greenhouse gas pollution from the global shipping industry has had a free ride. This industry is responsible for roughly 3.3 percent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions.  While shipping may be an efficient way to move products, it is also a major part of the climate problem.

A new study commissioned by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the shipping arm of the United Nations, shows that simple changes like slowing down and optimizing routes can reduce greenhouse gas pollution between 25 and 75 percent in a cost-effective way.  This confirms that there is a clear solution to shipping pollution.

Policymakers should require ships to meet emissions standards, like factories do.  Many of the strategies for reducing greenhouse gases from shipping are also good business opportunities that will yield both economic and environmental benefits.   Since emissions reductions in shipping result primarily from increased fuel efficiency, which translates to lower fuel costs per mile traveled, these are win-win opportunities.  Many of these steps could be taken immediately, increasing fuel efficiency and lowering total shipping costs right now, while at the same time, reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Oceana, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to develop and enforce emissions standards for all ocean-going commercial ships entering U.S. waters in 2007, yet the Agency has failed to respond. Congress should consider requiring such action through its climate deliberations. Until the United States and other countries begin to act to reduce global warming pollution from ships, we will be missing a major opportunity for real progress in slowing climate change.