As the congestion crisis continues to stall polluting container vessels in ports around the globe, there is a growing awareness about the importance of international shipping in both the prevention and the recovery of these ships. climate crisis and the public-health impacts of air pollution.
Released on Cyber Monday, a new report from Ship It Zero coalition members Stand.earth and Pacific Environment details the relationship between four major retailers that ship goods to the U.S. — Walmart, Amazon, Target and IKEA —The fossil-fueled carrier companies that make that shipping possible.
“Major retail companies and cargo carriers are flush with cashFrom pandemic-driven record breaking profits and are tightening their already close relationships,” Stand.earth shipping campaigns director Kendra Ulrich said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “This is an unprecedented opportunity for retail brands and cargo carriers to work together to immediately reduce their maritime emissions from their existing container fleet and build zero-emissions shipping into their growth model.”
Routes that are not well-maintained
The new report builds on the previous work of Shady Ships report released by Ship It Zero in July. The report listed 15 retail giants that contributed the most climate and air pollution to the U.S. by shipping goods. The new report only examines four of these companies. They were chosen for their brand recognition as well as the amount of pollution they cause.
Together, the four companies’ U.S. imports were responsible for 20 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions between 2018 and 2020, as much as the yearly emissions from five coal-fired power plants. The report is entitled Shady Routes: How Big Retail Companies and Their Carriers Pollute Key Ocean Shipping Corridors, was able to better understand these emissions by mapping out the stores’ preferred routes and revealing their preferred carriers.
The report reveals that Walmart is the company whose U.S. imported products cause the most pollution. The retail giant prefers to ship its goods from Asia all of the way to the East Coast, preferring ports in Houston and Savannah, Virginia.
It’s preferred carrier is also the greatest polluter among all the carriers studied in the report: French company CMA CGM. This company made $31.5 billion in revenue in 2020 and accounted for 68 percent of Walmart’s shipping emissions and 33 percent of all four retailers’ emissions.
Amazon and Target prefer West Coast routes to China from Los Angeles/ Long Beach/ Seattle/ Tacoma. IKEA, on the other hand, is moving more goods by rail from China into Europe and then shipping to Philadehpia or Baltimore. IKEA’s growing reliance on rail may be why its shipping emissions appear to be going down.
Congestion crisis/pollution crises
Understanding Target and Amazon’s routes in particular helps illuminate their role in the ongoing congestion and pollution crisis impacting frontline communities who live near West Coast port cities. This finding was particularly exciting for Ship It Zero campaign lead Dawny’all Heydari, who works in Los Angeles.
The long-standing public-health crisis caused by container ship pollution is affecting the Los Angeles-area portside communities San Pedro and West Long Beach. They have a life expectancy of eight years less than the LA County average. The situation has only gotten worse due to the increased shipping due to the pandemic. Target, for example has more than doubled its digital sales in the same time.
“The congestion crisis brought about by the pandemic, the turn to online shopping and in-house leisure, as well as holiday related trends, has shined an additional light on this issue,” Heydari told EcoWatch.
According to the California Air Resources Board, there are currently more than 100 container ships powered by fossil fuels anchored near the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. This is only increasing the pollution problem.
Since the congestion crisis started, “ships alone are pumping an additional 20 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides into the air each day, which is the equivalent of adding 5.8 million passenger cars to the region, and we also know that ships have added as much particulate matter pollution to the Southern California air basin as 100,000 heavy duty trucks,” Heydari said.
The California backlog has also spread panic up the coast to Seattle, Tacoma, and Tacoma. In 2020, imports increased 40 percent compared to 2018.
The report’s findings emphasize the need for immediate action to reduce and ultimately end shipping emissions. From a public health perspective, there is a “fierce urgency of now” to prevent the 260,000 early deaths caused by fossil-fuel shipping emissions every year, Heydari said. International shipping is responsible for three percent global greenhouse gas emissions. If the shipping industry were a country it would be the sixth highest emitter.
“If we don’t rapidly cut carbon emissions this decade, we could see a scenario where global warming reaches over 10 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by 2100, leading to a truly catastrophic scenario where we will see problems including uncontrollable wildfires, climate refugees, uncontrollable hurricanes, rapid loss of Arctic sea ice, rapid changes to our environment, etc,” Heydari explained.
Ship It Zero demands that these four companies and major retailers take three steps to achieve this goal.
- Do not use dirty ships. There are technologies such as wind-assisted propelling and slow steaming which could reduce emissions by up to 30% per trip.
- When they become available, you should start using net-zero emission vessels by 2024.
- By 2030, commit to zero-emission shipping at 100 percent
Heydari said that Ship It Zero “welcomed” a recent pledge companies including Amazon and IKEA to purchase only zero-carbon vessels by 2040, but argued that it ultimately did not move fast enough, given both the importance of reducing emissions this decade and the fact that zero-carbon vessels should be available long before then.
In the meantime, does that mean you shouldn’t be taking advantage of Cyber Monday deals until these and other retailers have changed their ways? Heydari stated that Ship It Zero is focusing more on corporate accountability than consumer behavior. What concerned individuals can do is visit Ship It Zero’s website and sign a petition urging the four companies to take action.
“The problem is fixable if these companies transition to zero-emisson vessels,” Heydari said. “There’s no reason why we wouldn’t have a functioning economy where people’s needs are met.”
This article was reposted from EcoWatch.