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.



State Climate Stories

Ocean-based mitigation solutions provide opportunities to significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and sequester and store carbon, and state governments can play an important role in developing and implementing these critical solutions. States have the power to regulate emitting industries and sectors, protect and restore blue carbon ecosystems, and incentivize sustainable ocean solutions.

Some key areas requiring ocean-based mitigation action include reducing emissions from shipping and ports; protecting and restoring blue carbon; deploying offshore renewable energy; and ending offshore oil and gas production. Many of the ocean-based mitigation actions that help reduce emissions also provide benefits to human health, cultural preservation, ecosystem and habitat conservation, and/or socio-economic improvements.

The stories showcased below are from states that have already taken ambitious action to help mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the development and deployment of various ocean-based solutions. By highlighting the successes, lessons learned and important takeaways, these State Stories can help provide opportunities and insights for other jurisdictions seeking to embrace the power of the ocean’s mitigation potential.

California Shipping: Cold Ironing and Slow Steaming 

Shipping has long been a major growth area for global trade, and with increasing demand, it continues to expand. However, unchecked expansion of the global shipping industry is not great for the ocean or the climate. Many vessels rely on dirty fuels that release different types of pollution—from greenhouse gas emissions to air pollutants that harm portside communities, often working-class communities of color, and even underwater noise pollution. States can work with the shipping industry and with local governments, like port authorities, to decrease these harmful impacts, including the emissions contributing to climate change. The State of California offers examples of policies that can help to achieve this goal. Through implementation of policies for cold ironing (tying into shoreside electrical power while at port instead of continuing to run polluting shipboard engines) and slow steaming (slowing speeds, which has a disproportionately large impact on emissions—a 20% speed reduction can lead to 33% fewer GHG emissions), California has successfully decreased shipping related GHG emissions in its state waters.

California hosts three of the largest ports in the entire United States: the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland. The Port of Los Angeles is the 17th busiest port in the world, and together with the nearby Port of Long Beach, these southern California ports host more than 30% of the North American market share (Port of Los Angeles 2020). The Port of Oakland is smaller but is still responsible for nearly 4% of the North American market and is the key container port for northern California.1

These three ports are all located in large metropolitan areas, where the traffic from both land- and sea-based activities can affect area residents. Criteria air pollutants from shipping emissions (especially nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and particulate matter) pose public health concerns and can cause respiratory infections, asthma and chronic lung disease. Cumulative air quality and community impacts have spurred several state and local policy responses to address GHG emissions and criteria air pollutants over the last 20 years, including from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and local port authorities.

California was able to adopt and fund these initiatives in innovative ways that could be a guide for other states. To transition to cold ironing, California used bond funding. In 2006 voters approved the issuance of $20 billion in general obligation bonds through Proposition 1B: Goods Movement Emission Reduction Program, of which $1 billion was specifically allocated for reducing emissions at ports including through cold ironing infrastructure, and changes to land-based transportation of goods. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) also used some of the funding through grants to incentivize compliance with the updated policies and recommendations.2

Slow steaming was implemented via Vessel Speed Reduction Programs (VSRP)3 that incentivize ocean-going vessels to slow down while coming into California seaports in order to reduce GHG emissions and criteria pollutants. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have encouraged voluntary participation with financial incentives for ships that adopt slow steaming when they arrive within 20 or 40 nautical miles of shore (depending on the VSRP). Between 2005 and 2016, by implementing the VSRP and additional air quality improvement measures for ocean-going vessels, the Port of Los Angeles cut NOx emissions by 40 percent, diesel particulate matter emissions by 90 percent, sulfur oxide emissions by 98 percent, and GHG emissions from ocean-going vessels by 28 percent. The Ports of San Diego, San Francisco Bay and the Santa Barbara Channel region have since adopted VSRPs to reduce air pollution and protect whale populations in the area.4

Key takeaways:

The success of these policy and management responses are in large part due to pressure from local communities and stakeholders to address environmental injustice, the willingness of decision-makers to support pilot projects and the voluntary actions carried out by the shipping industry. Together, the suite of activities undertaken by state and local jurisdictions and supported by voter-approved bond funding and local port authorities has led to the dual benefits of fewer GHG emissions and cleaner air for residents. A suite of policy tools combined with partnerships with other governments, industry and communities can provide state governments funding and different policy and management opportunities to mitigate emissions while simultaneously providing important co-benefits to communities and wildlife.

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1 iContainer. 2021. “The largest and busiest ports in the U.S.”
2 South Coast Air Quality Management District. 2021. “Goods movement emission reduction projects.”
3 San Pedro Bay Ports. 2017. “Clean air action plan 2017: Final.” Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles, California.
4 Starcrest Consulting Group LLC. 2016. “Inventory of Air Emissions for Calendar Year 2015.” Prepared for the Port of Los Angeles. Technical Report APP# 151021-520 A. Accessed October 2022. 

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