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The shipping industry needs to move in line with the Paris Agreement

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With his administration set to announce its new Paris Agreement climate commitments soon, now is the time for President Biden to be more ambitious than ever on climate action here at home. We have no time to waste. Ocean Conservancy, where I serve as CEO, along with many countries and nonprofit organizations, is calling for Biden to commit to reducing U.S. emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030. 

To realize this goal, Biden must embrace ocean-based solutions. One solution within his grasp is to eliminate emissions from the shipping industry by 2035. The shipping industry is currently responsible for 3 percent of global emissions, and that number is poised to grow to 18 percent by 2050. Shipping would be the sixth largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) if it were a country. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) governs the shipping industry. The IMO’s emissions reduction goal of “at least” 50 percent by 2050 simply won’t cut it. It is critical that this sector get to zero emissions by 2035 in order to keep planetary warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Taking on the shipping industry’s emissions will be a first step in keeping the promises that Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry made earlier this year to include the ocean in the United States’ climate plans.

By tackling this growing source of emissions, Biden can also right environmental injustices, another area of focus for his administration. Vessels dock at ports around the country for refueling as well as loading and unloading cargo — these areas are environmental dumping grounds. Ships discharge gray water, a damaging slurry of bilge, pollution and waste, and the fossil fuel-powered port infrastructure — as well as the ships themselves — choke the air with pollution. The surrounding communities, which are often made up of people of color or people with lower incomes, are subjected to living with unhealthy air and water, affecting their health and quality of life. 

There are three areas the Biden administration must immediately prioritize.

First, Biden must fund the development of zero-carbon shipping fuels and zero-carbon ships. Currently, ships rely on some of the dirtiest types of fuel available, similar to the black, sludgy tar used on roofs. Not only do these fuels emit GHGs, but leaks from the ship into the surrounding ocean are disastrous for ecosystems and wildlife. The technology to replace these dirty fuels is available to us now, such as zero-carbon green electrofuels. The Biden administration has a golden opportunity to invest in developing and scaling the production of these fuels and the zero-carbon ships that use them, meeting not just his climate goals but job creation and infrastructure goals as well.

Second, ports need to be transformed. Current infrastructure relies on fossil fuels for power. Biden needs to invest in developing onshore power that draws from renewable energy sources — this will help meet the administration’s climate needs and directly impact and improve the lives of people living in port communities. 

Third, the Biden administration needs to strengthen regulations for the shipping sector. We need shipping emissions standards for all ships that dock at U.S. ports; we need deadlines for expanding the development and use of zero-carbon technologies by shipping companies; we need to ban scrubbing systems that redirect pollution from ships into our ocean. Doing all of this will indicate the administration is prioritizing environmental justice throughout the entire shipping industry. 

This is a path forward for the shipping industry that will allow for trade to continue around the world but not at the price of our ocean, climate and planet. If his administration brings the shipping industry in line with its new Paris Agreement climate commitment, Biden will make the lives of people around the country better and pressure other countries to also act on ocean-based climate solutions.

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

Tags climate crisis Global warming Joe Biden John Kerry net-zero emissions Paris Accords Paris agreement shipping industry zero emissions

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