Confronting Climate Change

Taking the ocean into account is critical for successfully addressing climate change, and addressing climate change is critical for the future of the ocean.

Pacific Ocean, West Coast Canada. Container ship, Horizon Anchorage, making its way north to Alaska.. Image shot 2003. Exact date unknown.

Global Shipping

Whether we know it or not, many of us rely on global shipping for the products we use every day. Shipping not only plays a big role in the economy—it plays a big role in both climate change and ocean health.

And when it comes to ocean health—there are rules in place that help protect vessels and the ocean habitats through which they travel. But in the middle of the ocean, these restrictions can be difficult to implement and even harder to enforce.

At any given moment, more than 50,000 ships are crossing the ocean or loading or unloading at ports, from Shanghai and Los Angeles to Antwerp and Singapore.

Unless action is taken, experts predict shipping emissions will increase and could account for upwards of 17% of GHGs by 2050. But—with your help—that could be changing.

Take Action

The Problem

Shipping has long been a major area of global trade and continues to grow, expand and add to the economy. In the era of climate change, however, a rapidly expanding shipping industry isn’t all good news. Many vessels rely on dirty fuels to power their voyages across our ocean. These fuels release many different types of pollution—from noxious fumes that are harmful to breathe to potent greenhouse gases that contribute to the worsening climate crisis.

More vessels releasing these pollutants pose a host of threats to our climate as well as to the health of our ocean and all those who rely on it.

Do you know these four dirty facts about vessel traffic?

  • The shipping industry emits an estimated 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.
  • Ship engines produce climate-changing pollutants, including black carbon and carbon dioxide.
  • International shipping emissions are now responsible for roughly 3% of the world’s greenhouse gases (GHGs).
  • If international shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest GHG emitter.

Emissions from the shipping industry do more than just contribute to runaway climate change; they also choke the air in portside communities, often working-class communities of color, with pollution that causes an estimated 250,000 premature deaths and six million childhood asthma cases globally each year.

The Solution

Ninety percent of global trade takes place via ocean transport, making shipping reform a complicated and important task.

By tackling shipping emissions here at home, the United States can set the international standard for ocean-based climate action and assert pressure on the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the international governing body for the shipping industry, to adopt more aggressive emissions-reduction goals. A clean-shipping standard will also spur widespread electrification of electrical grids and the development of renewable energy sources.

The good news is that the IMO will adopt a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Plan in 2023 and that the goal will be to reduce emissions by 50% to 100% by 2050. We already have the technology available to transition the shipping industry away from fossil fuels starting this decade. The bad news is that they are currently stalling on immediately implementing reasonable and proven actions that will cut emissions—such as slow steaming, which basically means adopting a global speed limit. For example, slowing ships down by only 12% has been shown to reduce emissions by nearly a third while only negligibly impacting trade.

Sustainable shipping is good for us and our ocean 

Ocean Conservancy is committed to ensuring action is taken swiftly. Although it sometimes feels like an uphill struggle, we remain confident that the countries of the IMO will do the right thing and provide examples of how to reduce emissions immediately, while working to completely eliminate them in the long run.

By eliminating fossil fuels from the shipping industry, the U.S. can help address the climate crisis, set an international example and kick-start a countrywide transition to renewable energy and zero-carbon technologies.

YOU Can Help

Unless action is taken, experts predict shipping emissions will increase and could account for upwards of 17% of GHGs by 2050. But—with your help—that could be changing.

Take action to urge the Biden administration to move forward with our commitments by updating the United States climate commitments and clearly aligning with the ambition of the Paris Agreement to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius. We need to plan for at least a 50% reduction in emissions over 2005 levels by 2030 and to decarbonize shipping completely by 2035.

Unless action is taken, experts predict shipping emissions will increase and could account for upwards of 17% of GHGs by 2050. But—with your help—that could be changing.

Take Action

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