Shipping produces a far greater share of greenhouse-gas emissions than you might think — more than a million tonnes annually, nearly 3% of the global total, and rising steadily.

The problem is soluble — but work to solve it has been outrageously slow. Any further delay is unacceptable. A strong international push joined by governments, banks, businesses, ports and the shipping industry itself is needed to clean up the sector.

Why has so little been done? One big reason is that the more than 50,000 ships that carry freight internationally, hauling 90% of the world’s cargo and emitting as much carbon dioxide as Germany, operate largely beyond the scope of any country’s emissions limits.

The UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the world’s shipping regulator, sets goals, but progress requires action by national governments. Many have close ties with the shipping business and would prefer to avoid strict new rules. This needs to change. Ports and businesses also need to take action, collectively and individually.

In 2018 the IMO set a target of reducing greenhouse gases from shipping at least 50% by 2050. And starting this year ships are required to scrub most of the sulphur out of their emissions, or use cleaner-burning fuels.

These moves were much too timid. If the world is to avoid warming beyond 1.5°C, the goal must be much more ambitious. Over the next few years the IMO is expected to dial up its goals for decarbonisation. This work needs to accelerate, with governments following through promptly.

Cleaner ocean transport is eminently possible: improvements in shipping technology, more efficient operations, and use of clean power could almost eliminate shipping emissions by 2035, according to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study.

Governments can help by recognising their responsibility to regulate ships travelling from port to port within their borders. This traffic accounts for 30% of all shipping emissions, according to the IMO.

The commitments countries made under the Paris climate agreement demand that they regulate these emissions. They can and should do so with low-carbon fuel standards, speed limits, investments in advanced shipping technology and other efforts. /New York, October 13


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