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With an Executive Order President Biden can take meaningful action to eliminate shipping emissions and advance environmental justice

In a letter sent to President Biden on World Maritime Day, 32 organizations called for an Executive Order to decarbonize maritime shipping. The Biden administration has already made significant commitments to eliminate emissions from the shipping industry, as well as to accelerate the development of zero-emission fuels and technologies and advance environmental justice. While the administration can achieve many of these commitments through legislation, the groups say, “there are critical actions that could be taken immediately through executive action.”

In July, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a revised greenhouse gas reduction strategy for global shipping and while it is an improvement over the previous strategy it still isn’t aligned with the 1.5C warming limit goals of the Paris Agreement. That leaves it up to countries to fill the gap. In their letter, the groups say that an Executive Order with specific time-bound actions will unlock opportunities and innovation for eliminating emissions that will keep the U.S. shipping industry on a 1.5C pathway while also creating and maintaining high-quality jobs.

Greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions from ships and ports pose serious health concerns to portside communities, which often already suffer from racial discrimination, marginalization and economic insecurity. Globally, these emissions cause an estimated 250,000 premature deaths and 6 million cases of childhood asthma each year. An Executive Order would protect port communities by reducing these toxic health hazards, while also creating good-paying union jobs in sustainable industries and providing for maritime workforce training and education. In doing so, this executive action would align with the administration’s own Justice40 initiative to support communities that are underserved and overburdened by pollution.

Furthermore, the shipping industry is the primary contributor to underwater noise pollution in the ocean, which harms a wide variety of marine species, from the smallest invertebrates to the largest whales. Underwater noise emissions from ships have been doubling each decade, tracking the growth in the number and size of the global fleet. An Executive Order would align innovation and investments in the fuels and technologies to enable both clean and quiet shipping. The groups urge President Biden to issue this Executive Order in the lead up to the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) this December. After the IMO’s new greenhouse gas strategy didn’t meet the level of ambition, it is imperative that the Paris Agreement’s goals are within reach in order to avoid the worst climate impacts. Bringing this type of action to COP28 will signal to the world that the U.S. is ready to stand behind its commitments to acting on climate and ocean health and advancing environmental justice.

Quotes from groups:

“After taking on a leadership role at the International Maritime Organization negotiations it’s time for President Biden to up the ante and set the U.S. shipping industry on a course that’s in line with the Paris Agreement. With a single executive action President Biden can unleash the investments and innovation we need to eliminate the climate, air and noise pollution from shipping and protect our ocean. Together with the historic achievements in the Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, this Executive Order will help support a just, equitable and rapid transition for workers and communities,” said Delaine McCullough, Ocean Conservancy.

“We call on President Biden to address shipping decarbonization with a stroke of his pen. An Executive Order on shipping decarbonization would eliminate harmful emissions, work towards the administration’s climate goals and advance environmental justice. The warnings from the UN are clear; we have no time to waste to ensure that Americans have a clean, safe and healthy future,” said Antonio Santos, Federal Climate Policy Director, Pacific Environment.

“The maritime industry’s supply chain currently has severe negative public health and environmental impacts for our port communities,” said Terrance L. Bankston, Senior Ports and Freights Campaigner for Friends of the Earth (FoE). “But clean water and clean air for all are achievable through bold governmental action. This executive order is needed now to effectively help eliminate pollutants caused by obsolete shipping policies. Environmental Justice leaders throughout the United States are counting on President Biden to put the U.S. shipping industry on the right side of history.”

“The United States has positioned itself as a global leader on ocean climate action, thanks to a groundbreaking Ocean Climate Action Plan combined with record investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. Now, it’s time to put the plan and those investments into action to reach our goal of zero emissions from international shipping by 2050. By issuing an executive order to expedite implementation in time for COP28, President Biden can make clear our commitment to decarbonizing the maritime sector and advancing environmental justice at our nation’s ports,” said Jean Flemma, Director, Ocean Defense Initiative.

“Air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths each year world wide. Health professionals witness the devastating impacts of air pollution on our patients daily. Respiratory illnesses, heart disease, stroke, dementia and some cancers are linked to air pollution. Low income communities and communities of color are disproportionately overburdened by pollution, including maritime air pollution. We have the ability to make substantial reductions in emissions from the shipping industry. An executive order is needed – now – to reduce toxic emissions and protect the health of portside communities. By prioritizing clean air and health equity, we can take a vital step towards a healthier and more just future for all,” said Dr. Mark Vossler, Climate Co-Chair, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.

“For far too long, people living and working near our nation’s ports have been harmed by extreme levels of health-threatening diesel exhaust from ships and trucks. The EPA estimates that 39 million people live within three miles of ports in the U.S., the majority of whom are low-income residents and people of color. While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act are allocating critical funding to clean up our ports, we need a clear target in place to ensure that all ports are cutting pollution in line with our Paris Agreement goals. An Executive Order on shipping decarbonization will help speed up the transition to zero emissions and maximize investments in the communities most burdened by pollution,” said Katherine García, Director of Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign.

“Southern Californians suffer from the worst air quality in the country due to pollution from ships and trucks at the San Pedro Ports. It is past time that the federal government take action to address our toxic air. This action will generate thousands of local, family-sustaining jobs to build the infrastructure necessary to create a thriving, zero-emission goods movement industry,” said Eli Lipmen, Executive Director, Move LA.

“Global shipping is the most pervasive source of underwater noise in the ocean, which is harming marine life,” said Regan Nelson, senior oceans advocate at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).“President Biden can, and must, lead the way in transitioning the shipping sector to be both carbon-free and quiet. An Executive Order will put the U.S. on track to alleviate the pollution burden in port-adjacent communities, meaningfully protect ocean biodiversity, and spur innovation in U.S. industry.”

Background: In the letter, the 32 organizations made seven recommendations of what commitments could be included in such an Executive Order. Toplines of those recommendations include:

  • Use existing Clean Air Act authority to establish a goal-based fuel standard for ships calling on U.S. ports.
  • Use existing authorities to eliminate in-port ship emissions by 2030.
  • Immediately establish a monitoring, reporting, and verification mechanism to collect fuel consumption and emissions data from all ships that traverse U.S. waters and use U.S. ports, building a baseline for emissions management.
  • Direct resources toward the electrification and quieting of the U.S. federal ferry and harbor craft fleet.
  • Support U.S. shipbuilders and maritime stakeholders to build low- and zero-emission and quiet marine vessels.
  • Support the development, demonstration, and value chains of zero-emission alternative fuels and technologies for the maritime sector.
  • Phase out and ban the use of sulfur scrubbers on ships in U.S. waters.

Source: Ocean Conservacy

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