Shipping emissions covered by the United Nations climate agreement

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The United States, Britain and 17 other countries pledged Wednesday at the United Nations Global Climate Summit to reduce emissions from the shipping sector by creating zero-emission shipping routes, a move that comes amid growing concern about pollution. atmosphere of the shoreline from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The agreement, called Clydebank statementstates that countries will work together to invest in clean energy infrastructure in ports at either end of major trade routes, establishing at least six “green corridors” by the middle of the decade, which will ultimately make it possible for ships to transition away from the ports. fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources. If these changes are implemented, governments could require that only zero-emission ships travel from Shanghai to Los Angeles, for example, or from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to New York. The initiative is part of an effort announced last week to shrink the maritime sector zero emissions by 2050.

The other countries that signed the summit pledge in Scotland are Denmark, Japan, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Chile, Costa Rice, Belgium, Fiji, Finland, Ireland, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.

Globally, the shipping industry is a major source of global warming greenhouse gases, largely because one of the dirtiest types of diesel fuel powers most of its ships. It is a fuel with a much higher carbon content than diesel used in cars. Cargo ships collectively emit an average of 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, about as much as all coal-fired power plants in the United States combined.

Calling the statement “a big step forward,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday that the United States will help lead the effort to limit the sector’s environmental impact.

“In expeditions, in particular, there is a paradox. On the one hand, pound-for-pound is typically the least carbon-intensive means of moving goods, “he said.” Yet there is so much of it, consuming so much fuel, that it is a huge source of emissions. “.

The announcement comes as the US busiest ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach face greater control over cargo ship traffic jams and worsening air pollution.

When cargo ships burn fuel, they emit more than carbon dioxide, erupting a combination of smog-forming pollutants, including ozone, nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, which has been linked to an increase in deaths .

Amid a growl in the global supply chain that has persisted for months, dozens of freighters stood off the coast of Southern California as they waited to dock, sometimes for several weeks. According to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, 103 ships were at anchor on Tuesday bound for Los Angeles and Long Beach, roughly the same number as the week before. During normal times, it is normal for a ship to be on hold or none at all.

Traffic congestion has mostly drawn attention for the resulting shortages and higher costs that could affect Christmas shopping. But environmental advocates are far more concerned about the health effects of people living near the ports of Wilmington, San Pedro and Long Beach.

Air quality data for 2020 released by the Port of Los Angeles show that pollution has increased significantly since last October as the number of ships waiting to unload has started to rise. Similar figures for this year are not yet available.

“This only worsens what was already a bad situation from an air pollution point of view,” said Adrian Martinez, a lawyer with environmental nonprofit Earthjustice, who pressured local air quality regulators to take action. . “It’s a double win for our region, and the public health crisis doesn’t appear to be receiving central attention. The only crisis is the impossibility of moving goods “.

By 2023, ocean-going ships are projected to overtake heavy diesel trucks to become the largest source of smog-forming nitric oxide pollution in Southern California, according to projections from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Worldwide, shipping industry greenhouse gas emissions are projected to double by 2050. The threat of this increase has put new pressure on the United Nations body responsible for regulating shipping to adopt more ambitious climate goals in in line with countries’ commitments to reduce emissions under 2015 Paris climate agreement.

But there have been few signs of this. The organization, known as the International Maritime Organization, has repeatedly delayed regulations to limit emissions in recent years.

At the heart of what has made maritime reform difficult are many of the same problems that countries face with thrilling cars and trucks. The technology exists to transform ships from diesel fuel to cleaner energy sources such as hydrogen, green ammonia and batteries, but these fuels are not available on the necessary scale.

Although a group of large companies, including Amazon and Ikea, made a commitment last month to use zero-emission ships by 2040, it is currently not possible for such ships to travel on major routes, as most ports are not equipped to supply them.

In response to Americans’ growing frustration with the disrupted supply chain, President Biden announced last month that the Port of Los Angeles would remain open “24 hours a day, seven days a week” to help address the backlog. Major retailers have agreed to clear their goods from ports more quickly, freeing up space for additional containers. A similar plan was already underway at the Port of Long Beach.

Chris Cannon, head of sustainability at the Port of Los Angeles, said it’s too early to know if the port’s extended hours have managed to reduce the time ships spend waiting to dock.

The port is still struggling with huge piles of containers and is looking for new locations away from the terminal where they can be moved so that incoming ships can be unloaded faster.

Ed Avol, a professor at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, said it’s difficult to predict how air pollution from idle cargo ships will affect residents along the coast.

“There is no direct line that we can draw to say, ‘If you are exposed to this kind of concentration, you will get this result,'” Avol said. “But we know from a lot of research that there are associations between increased exposure and short- and long-term health impacts.”

For residents living near ports who already suffer from asthma and other respiratory or heart problems, a months-long increase in air pollution could “push them over the edge,” Avol said.

Under a plan adopted by the Port Commissioners of Los Angeles and Long Beach in 2017, the port complex is expected to be transformed into a zero-emission facility by 2035. In their first big step towards achieving this, ports voted last year to impose a tax of about $ 20 on containers that would be used to help trucking companies purchase less polluting vehicles.

But when the pandemic started, the ports delayed the tax. Under a plan recently announced, they won’t start harvesting it until April.

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