Astonishing facts revealed about pollution from cargo shipping

The Guardian reports, 7th October 2016: A push by the shipping and oil industries for a five-year delay to curbs on toxic sulphur emissions would cause an extra 200,000 premature deaths from lung cancer and heart disease, according to an unpublished International Maritime Organisation (IMO) study.

Fatalities from illnesses such as asthma were not covered by the leaked paper, which was based on shipping satellite data and modelling work.

The shipping industry is by far the world’s biggest emitter of sulphur with SOx levels in heavy fuel oils up to 3,500 times higher than those in current European diesel standards for vehicles. A single large cruise ship can reportedly burn as much fuel as whole towns, and emit more sulphur than 7m cars.

Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

Egypt, Panama, Japan, India, Singapore, the Philippines and China would be among the countries hardest hit by the delay, one of the lead authors warns. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

At the end of October, an IMO meeting in London will decide whether to cap the sulphur content of shipping fuels by 2020 or 2025. Current levels can reach 3.5% but the cap would limit them to 0.5%.

The 2020 deadline faces fierce resistance from the oil and gas industry association, IPIECA, and Bimco, a global shipping group, which argue that there is not enough low-sulphur fuel available to meet the global demand that the measure would spur.

The EU has thrown its weight behind 2020, unilaterally imposing the new IMO standard from then. With China enforcing similar emissions control zones, the new benchmark for 2020 is thought likely to pass, although the US and large flag states’ positions remain wildcards.

James Corbett, one of the report’s lead authors, told the Guardian that any slippage on the 2020 start date risked grave consequences. “An IMO policy implemented on time in 2020 could reduce the health burden on coastal communities, particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America,” he said. “The inverse is also true. A delay would ensure that health impacts from sulphur emissions persisted in coastal communities that are exposed, where shipping lanes are most intense and communities most densely populated.”

Egypt, Panama, Japan, India, Singapore, the Philippines and China would be among the countries hardest hit, Corbett added.

Sveinung Oftedal, Norway’s lead negotiator at the IMO, said that domestic health concerns had now overtaken fears about the acidifying effects that sulphur has on Scandinavia’s lakes and rivers.  “Air pollution from shipping is not just a local or regional, but a global, problem,” he said. “The question is whether we can really continue to accept its effects, and the answer is: no, we cannot. The 2020 deadline is needed and it is achievable.”

Source: The Guardian, 7th October 2016. For the full details, see

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