Top Sea Polluters Beg for Climate Rules That No Rival Can Avoid

The ocean shipping industry, among the world’s biggest polluters, is asking a key regulator to overhaul its emissions directives so that all carriers are working off the same rulebook as they make the expensive changes needed to cut output of harmful carbons.

With roughly 90% of global trade transported by sea, the industry emits more carbon annually as Germany and the Netherlands combined. And if shipping were a country, it would be the world’s sixth-biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, according to the World Economic Forum.

The World Shipping Council, whose members operate 90% of global container-carrying capacity, want the International Maritime Organization -- a United Nations oversight body -- to revisit its greenhouse-gas-emission regulations.

The WSC, whose members include A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, Cosco Shipping Holdings Co. and MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co., is asking for “global, enforcible multilateral regulation to avoid the race to the bottom,” said Jan Hoffmann, head of trade logistics at the UN Conference on Trade and Development. “They don’t really mind that level of regulation as long as it’s the same for everybody.”

Billions Needed

The Global Maritime Forum estimates that fully decarbonizing the shipping sector by 2050 will require as much as $95 billion of investment per year starting in the next decade. That compares with $25 billion climate change could cost the industry every year by the end of the century, according to an Environmental Defense Fund report. The container port industry’s global net earnings in 2019 totaled about that amount.