Organized by the nonprofit Aspen Institute, the initiative counts Amazon, Unilever, Michelin and Patagonia among its signatories. “By setting this target and signaling our dedication to decarbonize this part of our supply chains, we hope to inspire a surge in investment by ocean freight carriers and producers of zero-carbon shipping fuels,” the companies said in an announcement Tuesday.
Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.
The pledge to decarbonize ocean shipping within the next two decades came with calls for policymakers to help transform the industry. The coalition urged government officials to set ambitious marine fuel goals, implement regulations and market-based measures to encourage the rapid development of new fuels and technology, and to allow zero-carbon shipping fuels to “become competitive with fossil fuels as soon as possible.”
The announcement also comes as greater public attention has fallen on international shipping and logistics, as ports, cargo companies, truckers and retailers have faced significant disruptions since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, sparking shortages of cars, clothing, toys and groceries. Last week, President Biden unveiled a plan to keep the Port of Los Angeles open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to relieve pressure on the distressed supply chain.
On Monday, the port’s executive director, Gene Seroka, said his team had halved the amount of cargo that had been sitting on docks for 13 days or longer. And Tuesday afternoon, the White House said that Union Pacific Railroad facilities serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were now operating round-the-clock to help move shipping containers.
Globally, the collective effort to slow climate change has lagged, with countries failing to meet the targets set under the 2015 Paris climate accord. Greenhouse gas pollution is still growing, and even more ambitious commitments that some national governments have set would still chart a perilous course for global warming.
“Facing a climate crisis, our interconnected global economy and the maritime industry that facilitates global trade must decarbonize rapidly,” the companies said.
The coalition defines zero-carbon fuels as those that have zero greenhouse gas emissions, can be used to decarbonize the entire shipping industry and have already addressed safety and land-use concerns.
“We need to speed up the transformation toward zero-emission ocean shipping,” said Elisabeth Munck af Rosenschöld, the sustainability manager for supply chain operations at Ikea. “By collaborating with like-minded partners, companies and organizations across the value chain we can create strong movements.”
Some environmental groups applauded the zero-carbon commitments while pressing the companies and other multinational players to set more ambitious and urgent targets.
“We are thrilled by the historic commitment from Amazon, Ikea and other major goods owners to move their products off of fossil fueled cargo ships, but it does not go far enough,” said Madeline Rose, the climate campaign director for Pacific Environment. “We’re asking Big Retail to be first movers in shipping’s clean energy transition — not just float along — which means a 2040 target date is not sufficient.”
Kendra Ulrich, shipping campaigns director for Stand.earth said the announcement is an important marker for the future of maritime shipping. But she criticized the 2040 date as too distant to address the health and climate impacts of cargo ships.
“If major retail brands truly want to do their fair share on climate change, they need to be on a course correction now, not 19 years from now. Cleaner shipping solutions already exist, and major retail brands like Amazon and Ikea must champion them,” she said.
The commitments to move away from fossil fuels in ocean shipping follow increasing pressure from environmental advocates and dire warnings from United Nations officials about the effects of human-induced climate change.
Last month, a major maritime industry association proposed a plan for a global levy on carbon emissions from ships to help speed the transition away from carbon-emitting fuels.
Under the proposal backed by the International Chamber of Shipping and submitted to the U.N.'s shipping agency, vessels conducting trade globally above a certain size would pay a set amount per metric ton of carbon dioxide they emit. The surcharge collected would then go toward a climate fund to pay for infrastructure in ports around the globe to supply cleaner fuel alternatives.