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Ship It Zero campaign pushing carriers, retailers to speed up transition to cleaner fuels

FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2019, file photo cargo cranes are used to take containers off of a Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation boat at the Port of Tacoma in Tacoma, Wash. The U.S. trade deficit surged in July 2020 to $63.6 billion, the highest level in 12 years, as imports jumped by a record amount. The Commerce Department reported, Thursday, Sept. 3 2020, that the July deficit, the gap between what America buys and what it sells to foreigners, was 18.9% higher than the June deficit of $53.5 billion. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press file
Cargo cranes are used to take containers off of a Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation boat at the Port of Tacoma on Nov. 4, 2019.

Retail brands and the cargo carriers that bring their goods to market have charted record profits lately, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and increased consumer demand it has fueled.

Yet the international shipping industry remains exempt from climate accords such as the Paris Agreement. A new campaign called Ship It Zero is pushing retailers and shippers to do what it takes to achieve zero-emissions shipping by 2030.

The fuel that powers big container ships is dirtier than almost anything else in use. Kendra Ulrich, shipping campaigns director with the Bellingham office of the nonprofit, says international shipping is responsible for 3 percent of global climate emissions.

That doesn't sound like a lot, but when you put it into context … it is more than international aviation emissions per year,” she says.

“Also, if international shipping were a country, it would be the world's sixth largest climate polluter. So this is a massive problem.”  

She says it’s been frustrating to see shippers and retailers consistently passing the buck in climate negotiations.

"Everything in our lives — the clothes on our bodies, the chairs that we're sitting in, the phones we’re using, the food that we're eating — most of it at some point was on one of these incredibly polluting container ships,” Ulrich says.

That’s why her group co-published a new study of the sector that finds four major retailers have the power to really change things. The four include Amazon and IKEA. Both just pledged to achieve zero-emissions shipping by 2040.

"Not to diminish that, but … we can't wait almost two decades before we see real climate action and real movement within the sector.”

Ulrich says now is a critical moment: the sector is seeing astronomical profits that they could invest in new technologies. And the Biden administration is offering new infrastructure support to help slash carbon emissions.

Updated: November 30, 2021 at 4:17 PM PST
Audio added.
Corrected: November 30, 2021 at 4:17 PM PST
The spelling of Kendra Ulrich's last name has been corrected.
Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to