Rhein on Energy and Climate

The Environmental Committee of the International Maritime Organisation has taken a long overdue decision, which will put an end to virtually all sulfur dioxide emissions from shipping.

With more than 20 years delay the shipping industry thus follows the example of electricity generation that had to eliminate sulfur emissions under heavy pressure from citizens in Europe and the USA. Thanks to that action, acid rains and ‘Waldsterben’ have ceased to be a concern in Europe and the USA.

Today shipping represents the major source of sulphur emissions that cause severe damage to the respiratory system of human beings, vegetation and buildings.

If formally adopted in October, the shipping industry will have until 2020 to progressively reduce emissions gobally to a maximum sulphur content of 0.5 percent. But those countries most concerned about these emissions like EU and USA will be free to impose a quasi-total ban in their sensitive coastal areas – Baltic, North Sea, Mediterranean and Atlantic – as of 2015.

These long transition periods should enable the shipping industry to adapt to the new standards, which imply replacing heavy bunker by distilled fuel. Refineries should also be able to build up the capacities for satisfying a substantially higher demand for distilled products.

Of course, these changes will lead to higher fuel costs and have repercussions on the shipping rates. But that is only fair. For far too long has the shipping industry been able to impose those ‘external costs ‘ to human beings, forest and house owners alongside the main shipping routes.

The UN should consioder setting up a similar organisation for the power sector, the ‘International Power Organisation’, in view of phasing out the C02 emissions, say by 2035. That might be more effective than the complex and highly politicised Bali process.

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