Ships transport more than 10 billion metric tons of cargo each year, including clothing, electronics, and oil.

Almost all of these ships run on fossil fuels, so they emit a lot of carbon pollution. Maritime shipping causes about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions – even more than airplanes.

In 2018, the U.N. agency that regulates global shipping set a goal of reducing ships’ carbon emissions to half of 2008 levels by mid-century.

But Bryan Comer of the International Council on Clean Transportation says little progress has been made.

“Currently, the global shipping sector is not on track to meet even its initial greenhouse gas strategy goals,” Comer says.

He says there are promising technologies – such as hydrogen fuel cells – that could dramatically cut ships’ emissions.

But they’re still expensive and not widely used.

“There’s an opportunity now to start using cleaner fuels,” he says. “But right now what’s missing is that there’s … no regulations at the global scale that would incentivize that change.”

So he says we need policies and enforceable standards to motivate the shipping industry to invest in cleaner technologies.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media