Considering the Maritime Industry’s Carbon Footprint

CARB released a Draft Climate Action Plan to cut back the use of fossil fuels and reach carbon neutrality by 2045. Here is what that means for the maritime industry.

SACRAMENTO – On May 10, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a draft plan navigating the state’s transition to a clean energy economy, drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels, achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 or sooner, and significantly cleaning the state’s air, especially in disadvantaged communities disproportionately burdened by persistent pollution.


The maritime industry transports more than 10 billion metric tons of cargo each year, including clothing, electronics, and oil. The majority of these ships run on fossil fuels, so they emit an abundance of carbon pollution. Maritime shipping causes about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, even more than airplanes.

“The marine regulations called out in the draft Scoping Plan are mostly for ocean-going vessels,” said David Clegern, public information officer for CARB, in an email from May 18. “That includes full implementation of the 2021 At Berth Regulation that provides GHG, diesel particulate matter, NOx, and reactive organic gases (ROG) emissions reductions by requiring vessels to plug into grid electricity when they are at berth (or use another approved emission control technology). In 2007, CARB developed the original At Berth Regulation that required container, cruise, and refrigerated cargo to use grid electricity at berth beginning in 2014. The 2021 regulation achieves increased emissions reductions adding requirements for additional vessel types, auto carriers in 2025, and tankers in 2025 and 2027.”

According to Clegern, the 2021 At Berth Regulation requires staff to perform an Interim Evaluation by December 2022 to evaluate the potential inclusion of bulk and general cargo vessels and controls for vessels at anchor to achieve additional emissions reductions.

The draft Scoping Plan evaluated four potential scenarios for achieving carbon neutrality, reaching the 2030 goal of reducing GHG emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels. Two of those scenarios would achieve carbon neutrality by 2035; the other two by 2045. Through extensive modeling to determine future policy impacts on health and the economy, CARB staff concluded that Scenario 3 provided the most economically and technologically feasible route to carbon neutrality, including providing equity-based solutions focused on affordability and job preservation. Scenario 3 aligns with all applicable statutes and Executive Orders while deploying a broad portfolio of existing and emerging fossil fuel alternatives and clean technologies. It also provides a feasible timeline to develop the infrastructure and technology needed, especially the rapid build-out of renewable energy, and a lower overall cost of implementation with minimal impact on the economy. In addition, it will achieve an approximately 90 percent reduction in petroleum usage by 2045 and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, another state target.


The draft Scoping Plan also reviews California’s existing climate programs, such as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, Cap-and-Trade, and Renewables Portfolio Standard. The draft Plan explains how these programs have been changed since the last Scoping Plan in 2017 and outline other programs and actions needed to achieve a low-carbon economy.


“The draft Scoping Plan includes a recognition that some sectors like marine may require liquid fuels to support decarbonization,” said Clegern. “The Board recently approved Commercial Harbor Craft amendments that include electrification and renewable diesel use in CHC to provide reductions of GHGs, diesel particulate matter, and NOx emissions reductions beginning in 2023, on top of those achieved by the 2011 CHC Amendments.”


Also, CARB recently adopted a Commercial Harbor Craft regulation that includes both electrification and renewable diesel use in those vessels.


In 2021, CARB proposed regulations for Commercial Passenger Vessels that would require boat owners to replace their current engines with tier-4 zero-emission engines. The regulations would require boat owners to reconstruct their boats not only to fit the engine onboard, but also change the material of which the boat is made because those engines were known to run hot and catch fire. After the boating community fought the proposed regulations, CARB settled on a new plan that proposes a more realistically achievable compliance schedule, while also moving towards a cleaner option — requiring boats to re-power to lower emission engines as the technology becomes available and economically feasible and safe.

On March 24, the California Air Resources Board approved updates to its Commercial Harbor Craft Regulation to reduce emissions from harbor crafts like tugboats and ferries operating near California’s coast to improve public health in nearby communities.

By 2035, the amendments are predicted to result in an 89 percent reduction of diesel soot (also known as particulate matter) and a 54 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides. The amendments will also reduce cancer risk for over 22 million residents who live near the coast and up to 50 miles inland.


The draft 2022 Climate Change Scoping Plan is the third update to the state’s initial 2008 Scoping Plan. It identifies a technologically feasible, cost-effective, and equity-focused path to achieve carbon neutrality over the next two decades while also assessing the state’s progress towards reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The release of the draft plan triggers a formal 45-day public comment period. During the 45-day public comment period, the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee may provide additional input on the draft plan. The Board will consider the project in June.



“The draft Scoping Plan sets out an ambitious vision that advances equity and addresses the existential crisis of our generation with guidance for the concrete steps and actions needed actually to make it work,” said CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey in the May 10 press release. “When final, it will serve as the actionable plan for a more sustainable California for our children and a model for other industrialized economies around the world as they consider how to make their transition to a clean energy economy that provides health benefits and economic opportunity.”


The current commercial harbor craft regulation accelerated the move to Tier 2 and 3 engines for select categories beginning in 2009 through 2022; the new amendments will require zero-emission options where feasible and cleaner combustion Tier 3 and 4 engines on all other vessels. In addition, they will require the use of diesel particulate filters, which are standard equipment for new cars and trucks. Short-run ferries, which include those traveling less than three nautical miles over a single run, will be required to be fully zero-emission by the end of 2025. New excursion vessels, such as vessels offering whale watching or dinner cruises, are also needed to operate with at least 30 percent of the power from a zero‑emission source.

For all vessel categories, the approved amendments include compliance flexibilities such as fleet averaging or additional compliance time on other vessels in a fleet if a zero-emission ship is deployed where it is feasible but not required.


Achieving California’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2045 or sooner will also require re-envisioning our forests, farmlands, and rangelands to ensure that they play as robust a role as possible in reducing emissions and incorporating and storing more carbon. This focus will establish healthier forests that are more resistant to wildfires and increase health benefits from reduced exposure to wildfire smoke.


The plan also clarifies that to succeed in balancing the remaining carbon output with carbon storage, California must go beyond the capacity of its natural and working lands and deploy additional methods of capturing carbon dioxide that include pulling it from industrial smokestacks or drawing it out of the atmosphere itself and then safely and permanently storing it.

These efforts prioritize ensuring that all these efforts provide benefits to frontline communities most heavily burdened by persistent pollution and who will disproportionately bear the impacts of a warming planet.


The California Air Resources Board developed the draft 2022 Climate Change Scoping Plan in an unprecedented collaboration and coordination with multiple state agencies. That broad-based coordination lays the foundation for a whole government approach to future implementation. Development of the plan also included robust public engagement, including over a dozen workshops, webinars, or public meetings over the past year.


In addition, the draft plan was shaped by recommendations from the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee to ensure that environmental justice and frontline communities are front and center in the state’s efforts to address the climate emergency. The EJAC held 18 meetings, and there are some five dozen recommendations of the committee referenced throughout the draft plan. Ongoing collaboration with the EJAC will ensure that the final project is strong.


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