Quantcast

The Urgency of Curbing Pollution From Ships, Explained

Climate

By James J. Winebrake and James J Corbett

The International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency that regulates global shipping, is writing new rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from ships by 2050 as it implements other regulations that will mandate cleaner-burning fuels at sea by 2020.


As researchers who study the shipping industry, we have determined that the benefits of greener shipping outweigh the costs. Yet global environmental rule-making, implementation and enforcement take a long time, creating delays that can endanger public health and the environment.

Heavy Fuel Oil

The more than 52,000 ships crisscrossing ocean trade routes will burn more than 2 billion barrels of heavy fuel oil this year. Heavy fuel oil, a crude oil byproduct, contains sulfur concentrations up to 1,800 times higher than the diesel fuel burned on U.S. highways.

Ships contribute between 2 and 3 percent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions, studies show. Unless the world takes action to control noxious air pollutants and reduce greenhouse gases, harmful pollution will grow in tandem with global trade in the coming decades.

Atmospheric processes transform ship exhaust into toxic particles, which drift far from shipping routes. Originating along shipping routes, these pollutants endanger human health and acidify lakes and streams hundreds of miles inland.

Public Health Hazard

As part of an international team of scholars, we researched how sulfur-related pollution from ships affects human health. Our team found that ship pollution causes about 400,000 premature deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, and 14 million cases of childhood asthma each year.

Projected premature mortality from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease due to sulfur pollution from ships in 2020 unless emissions are cut. Study by James Winebrake, James Corbett and other researchers, CC BY-SA

Maritime regulation requires cooperation among many, if not most, of the world's nations, using their shared authority to verify compliance upon arrival in their ports. But at sea, most shipping companies operate relatively independently of the country where they are headquartered.

The International Maritime Organization sets international shipping policies through consensus agreements that specify compliance requirements and leave enforcement up to national authorities. In 2008, governments and industries agreed to adopt cleaner fuels in 2020. Since then, we estimate that ship air pollution exposure contributed to more than 1.5 million premature deaths and aggravated asthma conditions for more than 100 million children.

Given the climate benefits of low-carbon shipping, we believe that the world can't wait three decades to set and enforce shipping greenhouse gas targets.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Individual standing in Hurricane Harvey flooding and damage. Jill Carlson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Allegra Kirkland, Jeremy Deaton, Molly Taft, Mina Lee and Josh Landis

Climate change is already here. It's not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting U.S. senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.

Read More Show Less
A pregnant woman works out in front of the skyline of London. SHansche / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Air pollution particles that a pregnant woman inhales have the potential to travel through the lungs and breach the fetal side of the placenta, indicating that unborn babies are exposed to black carbon from motor vehicles and fuel burning, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Teen activist Greta Thunberg delivered a talking-to to members of Congress Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Climate Change Task Force after politicians praised her and other youth activists for their efforts and asked their advice on how to fight climate change.

Read More Show Less
Ten feet of water flooded 20 percent of this Minot, North Dakota neighborhood in June 2011. DVIDSHUB / CC BY 2.0

By Jared Brey

When Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle last October, it killed at least 43 people, caused an estimated $25 billion in damage and destroyed thousands of homes.

Read More Show Less
A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Forest fire continues to blaze in Indonesesia on Sept. 18. WAHYUDI / AFP / Getty Images

Nearly 200 people have been arrested in Indonesia over their possible connections to the massive wildfires raging in the nation's forest, officials said this week.

Read More Show Less

By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

World leaders have a formidable task: setting a course to save our future. The extreme weather made more frequent and severe by climate change is here. This spring, devastating cyclones impacted 3 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Record heatwaves are hitting Europe and other regions — this July was the hottest month in modern record globally. Much of India is again suffering severe drought.

Read More Show Less
Covering Climate Now / YouTube screenshot

By Mark Hertsgaard

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change "emergency."

Read More Show Less