Historically, over 90 percent of the world trade is carried across the oceans by some 90,000 marine vessels. Like all modes of transportation that use fossil fuels, ocean-going ships produce carbon dioxide emissions that significantly contribute to global climate change and acidification. Besides carbon dioxide, ships also release a handful of other pollutants that contribute to the problem. I was surprised to learn recently that more than three percent of global carbon dioxide emissions can be attributed to ocean-going ships. In fact, if global shipping were a country, it would be the sixth largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Only the United States, China, Russia, India and Japan emit more carbon dioxide than the world’s shipping fleet.
In order to reach our global climate change goals, the international shipping sector has to be transformed. Because of the enormous energy requirements and sheer logistical challenges, International sea vessels face some of the largest challenges to decarbonization. Few pilot projects demonstrating the efficacy of zero-emission transport have been developed to date, with the economics of such technological change being the biggest impediment. Relative to other sectors, the regulation of commercial marine vessels represents a significant political and legal challenge as ships operate largely outside of national boundaries. It seems that the best way to accelerate the transformation of this sector is to secure public partnership and investment in the development of new technology to ensure that the early adopters of commercial zero-emission projects are not penalized by exorbitant upfront operational and investment costs.
In California, there are a number of state funding programs dedicated at least in part to incentivizing the development of zero-emission technologies, such as the state’s cap-and-trade program as well as programs at the California Energy and Public Utility Commissions. Public investment would enable the private sector to develop more of the necessary solutions to identify the technological changes necessary to reach the zero-emission future we need to accomplish our global goals. It behooves advocates to demonstrate the worldwide benefits of dedicating state funds in order to encourage the development of zero-emission deep-sea shipping technologies. Not only that, but if California dedicates funding to the development of this technology, producing shipping vessels of the future could become a significant economic boon for the state, creating well-paying, green jobs.
California loves to wear the innovation economy mantle; zero-emission overseas shipping vessels are critical to the planet’s future and an underdeveloped market ripe for California’s innovation to transform. The state should dedicate funding toward its development in order to jumpstart the movement.