With the new year comes a new U.S. administration and with it a stark reversal in climate and environmental policy goals.
The Biden-Harris administration will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, a legally binding international treaty focused on mitigating the impact climate change will have around the world. The U.S. will officially rejoin the agreement on Feb. 19, 107 days after its withdrawal. But tackling pollution and climate change isn’t a job only for the federal government. State governments and industry leaders can play an integral role in creating a cleaner, more sustainable future.
One of the key parts of the new administration’s policy goals is their Build Back Better plan, which focuses on creating a modern and sustainable U.S. economy and infrastructure that puts the country on “an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economywide, by no later than 2050.” This includes upgrading ports and ferries to alllow more equitable access to clean energy and transportation.
The environmental impact of shipping and other commercial maritime industries has been a widely discussed topic. In an International Maritime Organization study released in August 2020, the IMO found a 9.6% increase in shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions, jumping from 997 million tonnes in 2012 to 1,076 million tonnes in 2018. The study also projects a 50% increase in emissions from 2018 to 2050, in large part to the growing demand for transport.
The Biden-Harris administration’s plan to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and continued focus on transforming U.S. industries to promote a cleaner future can play a major role in the process of addressing shipping pollution. States like Washington and its governor Jay Inslee are already contributing to this goal through partnerships and strategies to limit the maritime industry’s impact on the environment.
Back in December 2017, Inslee and Washington Maritime Blue started a year-long project to develop a strategy to reduce port emissions and electrify Washington State Ferries’ (WSF) fleet. Similar to Biden’s Building Back Better plan, Maritime Blue’s goal is to make Washington state the home to the nation’s most sustainable maritime industry.
In 2018, the WSF also became the first U.S. ferry operator to join Green Marine. Green Marine is a rigorous, voluntary environmental certification program for the North American marine industry. Participants, like the Port of Seattle, Port of Everett, and Puget Sound Pilots, strive to reduce their environmental impact through concrete steps like reducing their community impact, environmental leadership, and waste management.
Participants in the Green Marine certification program are graded along a scale of one to five and evaluated by different performance indicators. The lowest level requires participants to monitor regulations. To reach level five, participants need to demonstrate excellence and leadership. From 2017 to 2019, the Port of Seattle has consistently improved their rank, bringing five of the six key indicators like greenhouse gas emissions to level five, even with stricter criteria.
The Biden administration’s transformational infrastructure goals and Washington state’s forward looking position on a cleaner, more sustainable maritime industry and economy, makes 2021 look a little brighter when it comes to tackling climate change.
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