Canadians are generally pretty foggy about how much shipping emissions are fuelling the climate crisis.

But as soon as they learn that the sector produces a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, the majority are on board with government investment in zero-emission ports, an Abacus Data poll indicates.

More than 80 per cent of Canadians surveyed believe it’s important for Canada to invest in zero-emission ports, vessels and shipping routes, the poll finds. Quebec is a hot spot of support, with 72 per cent saying such funding is extremely or very important.

It wasn’t a big surprise that shipping emissions are flying under the radar of most Canadians, said Brent Dancey, marine climate action director for Oceans North, which commissioned the poll.

“It’s a question of out of sight, out of mind,” Dancey said.

“There's increasing pressure to address shipping emissions, so we wanted to see what Canadians are thinking.”

Although 90 per cent of the volume of global trade is moved on boats, more than half of Canadians aren’t aware shipping creates three per cent of the globe’s fossil fuel emissions — roughly equivalent to countries like Japan or Germany and more than all the CO2 produced by the aviation industry.

The poll confirms more than three in four Canadians are concerned about climate change and are conscious of the carbon footprint of air travel. But there’s a blind spot when it comes to shipping, Dancey said.

“Canadians haven’t connected all the things we have in our houses to the emissions generated by getting those things to us across oceans,” he said.

There's a wave of pressure to make urgent and effective cuts to rising shipping emissions when #UN countries gather Monday to update a global plan to slash the sector's carbon footprint. #IMO #ZeroEmissionShipping #Canada #GreenShipping

“So, a poll like this is useful to start making that connection for folks.”

It appears there’s broad support for investing in the green future of shipping regardless of political affiliation, Dancey added.

“It’s interesting when we’re in an often polarized political environment,” he said.

“Investing in zero-emission ports and shipping isn’t a partisan issue”

There’s also a growing wave of pressure in the international arena to make urgent and effective changes to drive down the sector’s emissions, Dancey said.

The agency that sets standards for the marine sector, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), has a target of cutting emissions in half from 2008 levels by 2050.

But little progress has been achieved since the IMO set the target in 2018, Dancey said. The IMO’s latest estimates suggest shipping emissions are set to surge by 90 to 130 per cent by 2050.

The United Nations agency is meeting next week to update the global plan and agree on measures to cut shipping’s carbon footprint with new zero-carbon fuels, infrastructure and technology.

However, Canada doesn’t have to lag behind by tying the country’s pace of change to the IMO, he added.

“Most, 85 per cent, of the infrastructure needed to decarbonize shipping requires investment on land in terms of zero-emission fuel production and [port] infrastructure,” Dancey said.

The European Union, for example, is moving forward faster than the IMO, he said.

The EU has mandated a number of measures — like massive investments in zero-emission fuel production, rules to drive the use of cleaner fuels, carbon pricing on international vessels and limits on vessels’ use of shore power — that jibe with the global commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

“There are many opportunities for countries to lead and be out in front of the IMO in terms of ambition by investing in zero-emissions infrastructure,” Dancey said, referring to a recent study by Oceans North on how Canada’s ports could spearhead a transition towards green shipping.

“Real solutions can happen at home, right now.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer