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Zero carbon shipping is a Biden-Harris win for the taking

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America is on the cusp of welcome change with the incoming Biden-Harris administration. They have before them the difficult job of fighting fires on many fronts. 

The nation is still in the middle of a dangerous health pandemic. Last week, it witnessed a terrifying insurrection attempt in the nation’s capital that was instigated by President Trump and his enablers. We are grappling with the centuries-old legacy of white supremacy and institutional racism that is present in every facet of our society. We have lost precious time over the last four years to tackle one of the greatest threats facing our planet and our people — climate change.  

As a citizen and a CEO, I am encouraged by the strong climate change actions being proposed by President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. As the leader of an organization dedicated to addressing the greatest challenges facing our ocean, I know that climate change is the single biggest threat. What I also know is that the ocean is a powerful source of solutions that can help us reduce national and global emissions to tackle climate change. Chief among those is global shipping. 

Reducing emissions from global shipping deserves urgent action, especially as global shipping is poised to grow significantly over the next few decades. Vessels powered by some of the most toxic fossil fuels on the planet are already responsible for over 1 billion tonnes of annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). If the shipping industry were a country, it would be the sixth largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. 

The good news is that emerging technologies coupled with real leadership can set us on the course we need to be on to get to zero carbon shipping and stay in line with the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold of the Paris Agreement. In order to stay within that threshold, it’s estimated that shipping emissions must reach zero by 2035. The incoming administration can be the catalyst for this transformation by focusing on three critical areas, starting at home.   

First, we need a commitment from the Biden-Harris administration to gradually eliminate all carbon emissions from vessels docking at U.S. ports. This must be part of a larger strategy to ensure the U.S. shipping industry gets to zero carbon by 2035. Transforming an industry needs innovation and leadership. When it comes to shipping, the U.S. already has key building blocks in place. We can’t eliminate carbon emissions from the shipping industry without providing a suitable and sustainable alternative fuel source but we already have contenders in green electrofuels like hydrogen or ammonia created using renewable energy. Ports can also electrify their power grids from renewable energy sources, with huge benefits to the health of coastal communities, local economies and nature.  

This leads to the second critical area of intervention for the new U.S. administration — direct stimulus funding and future federal financing for the development of zero carbon ships and green ports. Doing so will greatly increase access and adoption of new technologies by the shipping industry out on the water and on land. Our ocean is already reeling from the impacts of climate change and so are the many coastal communities that bear the brunt of fossil fuel pollution and extreme weather events. Zero carbon shipping delivers healthy oceans and thriving communities. It also ensures clean air, clean water and access to new jobs.  

Investing in strong domestic action sets the Biden-Harris administration up for the third priority: U.S. leadership at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The shipping industry and governance of emissions falls under the IMO, not the Paris Agreement. Unfortunately, the IMO hasn’t acted with the urgency required to stave off the worst of the climate crisis. In fact, it recently backtracked on its own commitments and will allow the shipping industry to continue increasing emissions. The U.S. must propose and aggressively push for rapid emissions reduction plans at the IMO.  

After four years under a president who suppressed science, embraced climate denial and undermined America’s global leadership on these and so many other issues, I am hopeful that the incoming administration will act on the transformative opportunity that tackling global shipping presents. Now is the time to secure a meaningful win to slash emissions, spur innovations and protect coastal communities, our ocean and all life on our blue planet.  

This is a clear Biden-Harris win for the taking.

Janis Searles Jones is the CEO of Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group. Follow the organization on Twitter: @OurOcean.

Tags biden administration Biden climate policy carbon emissions Climate change climate solutions Donald Trump global shipping Joe Biden net zero carbon ocean conservancy oceans Paris Climate Accords shipping industry

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