International Maritime Organization Regulations Continue to Tighten for Sulphur Emissions
Sulphur oxide and its regulations
Studies have shown that ships are a competitively energy-efficient form of worldwide goods transport when compared to aviation, railways, and road trucks. However ships do emit pollutants and harmful emissions. One of these harmful emissions is sulphur oxide (SOx), a byproduct of using the dirtiest crude oil as fuel. The International Maritime Organization has been working to tighten SOx emissions from ships since 2005, under Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. The regulation mandated that while a ship was in the range of a port, the fuel being burned would have to be cleaner, and contain less Sulphur. However, once out in the open sea, the ships were allowed to burn and emit any fuel they pleased. As of January 1st, 2020 the emissions regulations will tighten even more, greatly benefiting air quality for those surrounding shipping ports by furthering the reductions in Sulphur by mass used in ports, but also require that once out at sea, the ships must burn fuel at least as clean as the port fuel regulations from 2005. IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim told delegates, “I encourage you to continue your work through the newly adopted Initial GHG [Greenhouse Gas] Strategy which is designed as a platform for future actions.”
Impact on health and the environment
Tighter emission regulations have the potential for positive impacts on the health of humans and the physical environment surrounding ship ports. SOx is known to be harmful to human health, specifically to the respiratory system, contributing to asthma and lung diseases. A 2016 study in Finland estimated that not enacting the stricter emission regulations of SOx by 2020, ship emission air pollution would contribute to more than 570,000 premature deaths worldwide between 2020-2025. When in the atmosphere, SOx can affect crops, forests, and marine life through acid rain. This acid rain can also contribute to the increased acidity of oceans.
North Carolina ports
Here in North Carolina, port cities such as Wilmington and Morehead City will be most impacted by emission reductions. These cities transport nearly four million tons of bulk cargo annually. Tighter regulations would work to reduce SOx emissions in the areas surrounding the North Carolina Ports.