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A new alliance of major shippers is pushing ocean carriers to step up their efforts to cut back on CO2 emissions.

Zero Emission Maritime Buyers Alliance (Zemba) is a partnership of shippers Amazon, Patagonia and Tchibo with the Aspen Institute, an international non-profit organisation.

“Our goal is to enable any companyinterested in showing leadership to be able to access affordable zero-emission solutions as quickly as possible,” said Ingrid Irigoyen, president and CEO of the new interest group and director of the Aspen Shipping Decarbonization Initiative.

By leveraging their collective buying power, the partners are looking to speed up the shift to green fuel in ocean shipping. They plan to issue requests for proposals for zero-emission shipping to carriers this year to move products this way no later than 2025-2026.

The initiative was welcomed by the Ship It Zero coalition, a climate and public health campaign aiming to get large shippers to embrace zero emissions ocean shipping, which urged other large shippers to get on board.

“We applaud the formation of Zemba and urge Walmart, Home Depot, Target and all other major retailers to join this important collaborative platform,” said Madeline Rose, climate campaign director at Pacific Environment, a California environmental organisation.

“Just last week, Walmart and Home Depot stated that they are working with freight partners to ‘encourage’ and ‘scale up’ sustainable shipping solutions; we urge them to make good on these commitments and help create zero-emission futures for port communities, our shared oceans and our shared planet,”

Consumer pressure, increasing environmental legislation and concerns about climate change are prompting a growing number of shippers to push for emissions reductions in their supply chains, and ocean shipping is a major target. It produces about 1bn tons of greenhouse gas emissions in a year and accounts for about 3% of carbon emissions worldwide.

Next week all eyes in the industry will be on the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which will be in session from 20 to 24 March. Interest groups have called on the organisation to set stricter targets and move toward supporting regulations.

Ship It Zero has called the meeting ‘a pivotal moment” to ensure that the shipping industry can make meaningful progress towards significant emissions reductions.

“The IMO has the opportunity to change the course of shipping emissions to align with the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius by no later than 2050,” it said.

The IMO’s current targets are to cut CO2 emissions by at least 40% by 2030 against a 2008 baseline and by 70% by 2050. These targets will be reviewed this year.

According to some research, a transition to align with the 1.5 degree Celsius target is technologically and economically feasible if it is backed with ambitious global cooperation and strong policy measures. However, Ship It Zero has warned that the growth in global shipping points to a further rise in emissions. The IMO itself has conceded that emissions could be 30% higher by 2025 if nothing is done.

Some operators have been experimenting with better alignment of vessel and cargo arrival at ports. Currently, ships are dispatched as quickly as possible to collect cargo at a port once a charter agreement has been signed, often resulting in idling time until the cargo arrives. According to a 2020 report, tankers and bulk carriers spend as much as 10% of their time waiting to get into a port. By some estimates, eliminating wait times could reduce emissions from shipping by as much as 20%.

The Australian port of Newcastle is using a vessel arrival system where incoming vessels contact the port 14 days ahead and receive instructions from the port to adjust their speed to arrive when a berth is available, which has slashed anchorage time.

Nevertheless, just-in-time vessel arrivals remain the exception, as this requires alignment of the various stakeholders.

The Ship It Zero initiative is urging ocean carriers to stop ordering LNG vessels to cut down methane emissions. Ocean carriers have made some moves in this direction, but today alternative fuels like methanol, hydrogen and ammonia are not available in sufficient quantities, are difficult to scale and more expensive.

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