State Department Announces Green Corridor Ocean Shipping Initiative

Pacific Environment to Biden Administration: Industry Must Move to Zero-Emissions Shipping to Avoid Climate Change, Health Disasters
Date: April 13, 2022

The State Department announced the United States’ vision and commitment to green shipping corridors yesterday. The department said, “The United States envisions green shipping corridors as maritime routes that showcase low- and zero-emission lifecycle fuels and technologies with the ambition to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions across all aspects of the corridor in support of sector-wide decarbonization no later than 2050.”

Even though this commitment is a good step in the right direction according to Pacific Environment, it is not enough of a commitment from the administration or the shipping industry to address the dire consequences of climate change. This commitment from the State Department comes at the heels of the release of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which found that the world is on a “fast track” to climate disaster according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The UN Secretary-General also argued that it is “now or never” to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. The State Department’s announcement allows for low-carbon corridors at a time when we must end human reliance on fossil fuels for good. This comes short for the shipping industry to do its part to reduce the harm to the health of our portside communities, ocean wildlife, and our climate. 

Statement from Antonio Santos, Federal Policy Director for Climate, Pacific Environment:

“On the heels of the dire warnings from the IPCC report on climate change, the Biden administration must hold the ocean shipping industry accountable and move to zero emissions now. We only have a matter of months to reverse the course on climate catastrophe and inaction is no longer an option. Green ocean shipping must mean 100% zero-emissions: as the International Council on Clean Transportation reminds us, the technology already exists to transition to zero-emissions ships. We must rise to the challenge and act now to save our home on this planet for generations to come.”


Biden Administration Commitments

The Biden administration has recently sent a strong signal in the direction of zero-emissions shipping. In his State of the Union speech in March, President Biden called for “modernizing…ports” and “promot[ing] environmental justice.” President Biden also referred to the 2020s as “an infrastructure decade” in his speech. Moreover, at The Economist’s 9th annual World Oceans Summit in March, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry gave a keynote interview in which he explained that fossil-fueled shipping pollution threatens ocean wildlife. In Kerry’s words, “the level of carbon dioxide emissions acidifying the oceans… diminishes the ability of crustaceans to make their shells… We run the risk of tipping points with regard to coral reefs.” 


Approximately 90% of the world trade is transported by sea, and current business-as-usual scenarios project emissions will grow up to 50% over 2018 levels. While the International Maritime Organization noted increased ship size and operational improvements aimed at creating better fuel efficiency have resulted in a decrease in emissions intensity, annual absolute emissions are still increasing.

On its current trajectory, ocean trade is projected to grow by as much as 130% by 2050 over today’s trade volume: if ships remain on fossil fuels, they will represent 17% of global carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century.

The global shipping industry accounts for 3% of global climate emissions, more than global air travel. If shipping were a country, it would be the world’s sixth largest climate polluter. But since maritime shipping negotiated itself out of the U.N. Paris Agreement, the effort to reduce emissions in the industry has been slower than in other sectors.

The science also shows that solutions are within grasp. According to a 2020 International Council on Clean Transportation study, transpacific voyages could be powered by green, carbon and methane-free, electrolyzed hydrogen instead of fossil fuels, with only minor changes to ships’ fuel capacity or operations. Specifically, 57% of journeys could be made by replacing just 5% of ships’ cargo space with more hydrogen fuel or by adding one additional stop to refuel hydrogen en route, while 43% of all voyages could be made without additional fuel capacity or stops.

Retailer Commitments

IKEA and Amazon have signaled initial commitments to reduce their shipping emissions significantly by 2030. IKEA has committed to become “climate positive” by 2030, reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than the value chain emits, including in ocean shipping.

Major shipping companies are making commitments, too. Danish shipping giant Maersk announced this year that it will install offshore electric-powered charging stations at up to 100 ports globally to reduce emissions from the approximately 3,500 fossil-fueled ships in its fleet. This will reduce carbon emissions by 5 million tons a year overall.

At COP26, Amazon joined the First Movers Coalition to help commercialize emerging technologies to decarbonize heavy industries including ocean shipping, and committed to moving 10% of its freight on zero-emissions ships by 2030. Also at COP26, governments and CEOs launched the Clydebank Declaration to establish green shipping corridors among some of the busiest maritime shipping routes. And in October, Amazon and IKEA helped launch coZEV, a retailer-led initiative to move 100% of products off of fossil-fueled maritime cargo ships by 2040.

City Commitments

Last month, the Ports of Shanghai and Los Angeles announced that they will work with industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the movement of cargo throughout the 2020s, including a goal to “begin” transitioning to zero-carbon fueled ships by 2030 to cut emissions from one of the world’s busiest cargo routes. 

Last November, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to adopt Councilmember Nithya Raman’s resolution calling on top ocean cargo importers to the United States, including Walmart, to commit to making all port calls to the San Pedro Port Complex and the Port of Los Angeles 100% zero-emissions ocean shipping by 2030.