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Shipping industry aims to phase out greenhouse gases that its responsible for


On any given day, roughly 60,000 ships carrying everything from appliances to sneakers are plying the world's waterways. An international shipping conference this week in London is trying to adopt a new strategy to phase out greenhouse gases created by the industry. NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam is following this and joins us now. Good morning, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Rob.

SCHMITZ: So before we get into what they're trying to accomplish, set the stage for us. How big a role does shipping play in CO2 emissions?

NORTHAM: Well, I spoke with the International Maritime Organization, and that's a U.N. agency that regulates shipping on the seas and organized this conference. They told me their last study five years ago found that tankers and cargo ships produce 740 million tons of CO2 a year. And that's nearly 3% of global emissions - more than a country the size of Germany produces in a year.


NORTHAM: The IMO released a strategy a few years back with a goal of reducing those emissions by half by 2050, and Rob, that was broadly seen as inadequate - just not enough. So the discussions this time around, and I understand they're fairly heated talks, is to decide how aggressive the industry should be in cutting emissions. The Biden administration, which is trying to reshape globalization, wants them to be cut 100% by 2050. But for other member states, including China and other developing nations, that's just far too ambitious, and they want to take it much slower.

SCHMITZ: So what are some of the options out there for the shipping industry to try and phase out these emissions of greenhouse gases?

NORTHAM: You know, there are ways to improve energy efficiency, such as using LED lights and solar panels and reducing speed. There are also synthetic or clean fuels such as green hydrogen and green ammonia. Carbon shipping - a carbon price for shipping could be introduced. And then there's this trend to go back to the olden days and use wind to power the vessel...

SCHMITZ: Oh, wow.

NORTHAM: ...Basically massive kites on the bow of the ship. Or there are sails that can be retrofitted and used with the vessel's engines - so a hybrid of the seas, if you like.


NORTHAM: And then there's this new line of really futuristic-looking ships being developed that will be powered solely by wind. So there's new technology out there, but, you know, it all costs money.

SCHMITZ: Yeah, of course. And so at the end of this conference, there will be a new strategy on how much the shipping industry should reduce CO2 emissions and by when. Will all ships have to adhere to these new rules, and how will they be enforced?

NORTHAM: Well, there's not a global enforcement body. All 175 member states of the International Maritime Organization will have to sign on to a new strategy to reduce emissions. And it's up to each of those countries to make sure that ships are meeting the standards. I spoke with Natasha Brown, a spokesperson for the IMO, and she says some of the big shipping companies are already taking it upon themselves to cut emissions. Here she is.

NATASHA BROWN: They're already quite far ahead in decarbonizing and building new ships that are ready to run on some of these new fuels that are going to come in. And they're already quite far advanced in that process.

NORTHAM: You know, Rob, at the end of the day, if there is an agreement to really aggressively curb emissions in the shipping industry, it'll be a big deal.

SCHMITZ: Wow. That's NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam. Jackie, thank you.

NORTHAM: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.