Major retailers and carriers urged to act faster to reduce shipping emissions

The failure of the shipping industry to inject urgency into the decarbonization process at the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) last week caused under intense scrutiny from US climate change lobby groups.

The biggest retailers and their shipping carriers play an outsized role in emissions and must do more to reduce their carbon footprint, urges a report by two environmental interest groups.

The report, released today by and Pacific Environment, both members of the Ship It Zero coalition, sheds light on the environmental impact of the shipping strategies of Walmart, Target, Amazon and IKEA.

Between them, these four retailers accounted for about 7% of U.S. imports in 2020. The goods they imported between 2018 and 2020 accounted for about 20 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, which is as much as the annual emissions of five coal-fired power stations. plants, says the report.

And, according to the authors, the global shipping industry accounts for 3% of climate emissions, more than air travel.

“If maritime transport were a country, it would be the sixth largest climate polluter in the world. But since shipping traded out of the United Nations Paris Agreement, the effort to reduce emissions in the industry has been slower than in other sectors,” the report says.

The report focuses on trans-Pacific routes from China to the West Coast of the United States, as they produced about 21% of the four retail giants’ combined emissions during the period 2018-2020. The problem has been compounded for port communities on the west coast due to the constant inactivity of ships waiting for berth space, he notes.

“Target and Amazon have played an outsized role in the current congestion and pollution crisis at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. As Target faces increased demand in places like California and a doubling of its digital sales, and Amazon increases its control over its own gas-guzzling shipping and package deliveries, it’s high time. to hold these retailers accountable for their port responsibilities,” said Dawny’all Heydari, Ship It Zero campaign manager at Pacific Environment.

The report highlights the big four retailers’ longstanding business ties with their shipping partners, noting that carriers like CMA CGM are increasingly offering end-to-end logistics solutions. Walmart, which the authors identified as the U.S. importer with the most traded volumes and the most emissions, relies heavily on CMA CGM, the authors say.

They found that the French shipping giant accounted for more than two-thirds of Walmart’s shipping emissions in 2020 and one-third of shipping emissions for the four retailers – as much as the next four carriers combined.

According to the report, the close relationships between major retailers and their shipping carriers provide an opportunity for significant reductions in shipping emissions.

“Major retail companies and freight carriers are brimming with cash from record pandemic profits and are tightening their already close relationships. This is an unprecedented opportunity for retail brands and freight carriers to work together to immediately reduce maritime emissions from their existing container fleets and integrate zero-emissions shipping into their growth model,” said said Kendra Ulrich, Director of Expedition Campaigns at

“While the International Maritime Organization has noted that increasing vessel size and operational improvements to create better fuel efficiency have resulted in a decrease in emissions intensity, absolute annual emissions continue to increase” , says the report.

He accuses carriers of dragging their feet over the associated costs, an argument he sees invalidated by the record profits container lines have racked up since the pandemic.

“Major freight carriers are slow to move towards zero emissions, citing that the costs have been prohibitive. Profits from the container industry are unprecedented, consumers support clean shipping, and the technology is available. There are no more excuses for setting targets to achieve zero emissions by 2030. Retail companies looking to meet climate targets must engage with freight carriers who will offer them options for zero-emission freight to get their goods to market,” said Madeline Rose, climate campaign director at Pacific Environment.

The report notes that IKEA has made progress in reducing emissions by moving some traffic from Asia to the United States on an alternative route that combines rail to Europe with sea transport to ports in the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States. The authors also mention that Amazon has committed to moving 10% of its cargo on zero-emission vessels by 2030 and that Amazon and IKEA were among the founders of Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels (coZEV), a retailer-led initiative launched in October that aims to move 100% of products from fossil fuel cargo ships by 2040.

“Reducing, and ultimately eliminating, marine emissions will not happen without bold commitments and concrete actions from the companies that pay freight carriers to move their goods. The retail brands that fill our homes and lives with their products bear direct responsibility for the pollution created by their supply chains and for taking the necessary steps to demand a transition to zero emissions shipping this decade. said Ms. Ulrich.

The report calls on Walmart and Target to break their silence on the issue, commit to zero-emissions shipping, and transition to 100% zero-emissions shipping by 2030. It urges Amazon and IKEA to strengthen their zero-emissions commitments and immediately take steps in that direction. The four companies should also commit to public accountability and transparency about their shipping.