Sludge at sea: Shipping slow to clean up
Sweden takes lead in cutting carbon tracks of shipping
GOTEBORG, Sweden: Something unusual is happening in Swedish waters. Crews docking at the Port of are turning off their engines and plugging into the local power grid rather than burning diesel oil or sulfurous bunker fuel, which is a thick, black residue left over from refining oil.
"I always knew these extremely dirty bunker fuels were helping produce acid rain that falls so heavily over this part of," said Per Lindeberg, the port's electrical manager and an avid fisherman. "I was very happy when we could switch off the ships."
Similar high-voltage technologies have been introduced at ports including, and and . But as at , only a small fraction of ships are equipped with plugs, so the benefits from shore-side electricity so far have been limited.
In fact, despite the growing availability of cleaner technologies, the shipping industry has made little progress toward becoming greener, even as traffic grows heavier on existing routes and new routes open up in the Arctic.
Yet the most recent efforts to tackle the problem have met resistance, though less from the shipping industry than from the big oil companies that supply the dirty fuel.
Shipping is responsible for about twice the emissions of carbon dioxide as aviation and is growing just as quickly, although airlines have come under greater criticism. Particles emitted by ships burning heavy bunker fuel, described by some seafarers as "black yoghurt" for its consistency, also contain soot that researchers say captures heat when it settles on ice and could be accelerating the melting of the polar ice caps.
Health experts say the particulates also worsen respiratory illnesses, cardiopulmonary disorders and lung cancers, particularly among people who live near heavy ship traffic.
Ship engines also produce large quantities of nitrogen, which contribute to the formation of algal blooms at sea. Those use up oxygen when they decompose and create so-called marine dead zones in heavily trafficked waters, like the Baltic Sea.
"The sheer volume of pollutants from shipping has grown exponentially along with the growth of our economies and of global trade," said Achim Steiner, the executive director of theEnvironment Program. "Shipping is just less visible than other industries, so for too long it has slipped to the bottom of the agenda."
With the harm growing increasingly evident, the International Maritime Organization, a UN agency, this month proposed reducing the sulfur content of marine fuels starting in 2010 on all ships. It also proposed steps reducingfrom engines on new ships beginning in 2011. The agency intends to adopt the measures in October.
Under pressure from the, the maritime agency is continuing to work on separate measures to deal with the more difficult issue of carbon emissions.
The, the EU's executive arm, has said that if the UN agency fails to make concrete proposals on carbon by the end of the year, it would consider regulating the matter itself, perhaps by including shipping in the European carbon-trading system. Such a step could oblige ship owners to buy pollution permits from other sectors. On Thursday, the European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution urging the commission to act "urgently."
The shipping industry has supported the maritime agency's recommendations because they would apply globally and be introduced gradually. But the fuel industry immediately called for a review of the most important element: a global cap on sulfur content of marine fuels of 0.5 percent by 2020 from the current maximum level of 4.5 percent.
That target poses "risks to security of supply and to shippers and truckers," said Isabelle Muller, the secretary general of Europia, an industry group representing BP,and other oil companies.
Muller said the fuel industry would not be able to build new refining facilities quickly enough. She also said oil companies would be heavily penalized for expanding refining because it wasintensive.
According to a study last year for the American Petroleum Institute, it would cost the fuel industry $126 billion over 13 years to invest in equipment and chemicals to replace polluting bunker fuels with sufficient amounts of cleaner diesel to supply the shipping industry.
The study also indicated that the industry would pass on those costs at about $13 to $14 dollars per barrel directly to the ship operators.
James Corbett, an associate professor of marine policy at the, also said switching should not increase overall carbon production. He argued that ships sailing on cleaner fuels would emit less carbon and largely offset the increases in carbon from refining.
Source: International Herald Tribune
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