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Ikea, Amazon, Inditex Commit to Zero-Carbon Ocean Shipping That Ignores ‘Port Pollution Crisis’

Through a new cargo owner-led network facilitated by the Aspen Institute, a group of corporate climate leaders announced a target to switch all of their ocean freight to vessels powered by zero-carbon fuels by 2040, though environmental groups say the commitment leaves much to be desired and questioned why some of the world’s biggest retailers declined to step up.

Amazon, Brooks Running, Inditex, Ikea and Patagonia are among the first signatories to a 2040 ambition statement facilitated by Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels (coZEV). This ambition statement, which Frog Bikes, Michelin, Tchibo and Unilever also signed, sends an important demand signal to the maritime value chain and bunker fuel producers that freight customers want zero-carbon shipping and they expect the industry to rapidly accelerate its decarbonization efforts in the years ahead, the network noted.

It also signals increased interest by consumer goods companies and retailers to work collaboratively, deploy their capacities for innovation and drive economies of scale to foster an economically viable marketplace for zero-carbon shipping.

“The coZEV network is changing the conversation about climate solutions in maritime shipping and beyond,” said Dan Porterfield, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute. “Maritime shipping, like all sectors of the global economy, needs to decarbonize rapidly if we are to solve the climate crisis, and multinational companies will be key actors in catalyzing a clean energy transition in shipping. We applaud the coZEV 2040 Ambition Statement signatories for their leadership, and we urge other cargo owners, value chain actors and governments to join forces with us.”

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Ingrid Irigoyen, director of the Aspen Institute Shipping Decarbonization Initiative, which facilitates the coZEV effort, said it represents an historic step in the fight against climate change.

“Maritime shipping has long been a major producer of climate and air pollution, and attempts to transition away from fossil fuels have faced significant hurdles, including a perceived lack of freight customer demand that has stifled investment and scalability of potential solutions,” Irigoyen said. “By setting an aggressive target today, a group of leaders is changing the conversation, and this is just the start. We expect this movement among climate leading companies to grow rapidly. This will allow us to drive economies of scale, innovation, and a surge of confidence among investors and value-chain actors that there is a business opportunity in doing the right thing.”

Edgar Blanco, director of Net-Zero Carbon at Amazon, said the initiative will help the company meet The Climate Pledge, a commitment to reach net-zero carbon by 2040.

“The time to act is now and we welcome other cargo owner companies who want to lead on addressing climate change to join us in collaboration,” Blanco said.

Elisabeth Munck af Rosenschöld, sustainability manager for supply chain operations at Ikea, called coZEV “an important stepping-stone to manifest the commitment to decarbonize ocean shipping.”

According to the Aspen Institute, maritime shipping powered by heavy fuel oil produces 1 billion tons of climate pollution each year. Maritime shipping currently accounts for 3 percent of all global emissions and could rise to 10 percent by 2050 if the industry continues to rely on carbon-intensive fuels.

Maritime shipping also produces 10 percent to 15 percent of the world’s manufactured sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide emissions. To mitigate these negative impacts and align with Paris Agreement goals, the maritime shipping industry must transition to zero-carbon fuels by the mid-2020s, use them at scale by 2030 and be fully decarbonized by 2050, at the latest, the group said.

While sending demand signals for zero-carbon shipping is essential to kick-start this transition, companies working with coZEV also recognize that market forces alone will not bring these solutions to scale. For this reason, signatories to the 2040 ambition statement are also calling on policymakers around the world to take swift and ambitious action to advance maritime shipping decarbonization in their domestic, regional and international leadership capacities.

Currently, the International Maritime Organization, shipping’s global regulator, is working under a draft greenhouse gas strategy for shipping that only requires the sector to reduce its absolute emissions by at least 50 percnt by 2050 compared to 2008. Given the long lifespan of maritime cargo vessels and the need to ramp up renewable energy production to support zero-carbon fuel supply chains around the world, the transition must accelerate rapidly, coZEV said.

To that end, coZEV plans to work with a network of action-oriented and climate-leading cargo owner companies, which includes but is not limited to signatories of this initial 2040 ambition statement. Through coZEV, companies will be able to come together to help establish the first zero-carbon maritime transportation corridors; give policymakers confidence to enact measures that will lower the cost of the zero-carbon transition; and harness the vast collective creativity, market power, bias for action, and investment capacity of some of the most innovative companies and organizations on Earth.

“Whether or not shipping will decarbonize is no longer a debate,” Irigoyen said. “The question is rather how quickly we can get our collective act together, and which supply chain actors and nations will be poised to harness the vast business opportunity this transition represents.”

Not everyone is fully celebrating this development, however.

Though Stand.earth and Pacific Environment commended the coalition for taking important carbon-reducing steps, the environmental nonprofits, which lead the Ship It Zero coalition, believe stronger action is needed. The groups applauded the ambition statement’s positive points, including that companies will ensure that fossil-derived hydrogen and liquified natural gas do not meet their zero-carbon fuel criteria.  Calling for mandatory government policy is also needed, they added.

Ship It Zero, a campaign urging 2030 zero-carbon commitments for major maritime shippers, takes issue with the lack of specific actions companies outlined to curb shipping pollution “today, tomorrow, or throughout our most decisive decade on climate action,” it said. What’s more, the coalition criticized the network for addressing climate pollution without stipulating “parallel commitments to ending air pollution from ocean shipping, including sulfur oxide, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter pollution.”

“Today’s pledge is an important guidepost for the future of maritime shipping, but 2040 is simply too distant a horizon for the retail sector to address the enormous health and climate impacts from its cargo ships,” Kendra Ulrich, shipping campaigns director for Stand.earth, said. “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.”

Though Madeline Rose is “thrilled” by the network’s “historic commitment,” the Pacific Environment’s climate campaign director believes the roadmap “does not go far enough.”

“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,” she said. “We’re shocked to see that Walmart, the single-largest maritime importer to the United States, did not join today’s commitment. Where are Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, and many leading maritime importers as documented in our Shady Ships report?”

For Dawny’all Heydari, a Ship It Zero campaign lead at Pacific Environment, the network’s plan of attack fails to “address our current port pollution crisis.”

“Right now, due to COVID-19 and holiday-related trends, an unprecedented number of fossil-fueled cargo container ships await entry into ports, harming frontline communities and our climate with deadly air pollution and greenhouse gases,” Heydari said. “We need companies to take accountability now—by committing to 100 percent zero-emissions ocean cargo shipping this decade.”