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Mar 302010

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

Pollution from ships along the U.S. and Canadian coasts will be greatly reduced by August, 2011, when an international shipping reduction plan goes into effect.

The change will literally save lives, says David Marshall, senior counsel for the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring clean air and healthy environments by using science, education and legal advocacy.

Adopted last week by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the plan will require reductions in ship emissions for both nitrogen and sulphur oxides along the coastal areas of North America and Canada. The IMO is the UN agency whose focus is regulating the environmental and safety elements of international shipping.

Nitrogen and sulphur oxides have long been associated with contributing to acid rain and leading to shortened lifespans. Particulate pollution from shipping impacts public health ranging from heart attacks and strokes to lung cancer and a variety of respiratory problems, up to and including premature death.

“This is a great step forward for health and the environment,” says Marshall. These measures, he says, are far more stringent than previous regulations.

The international shipping reduction plan designates all sea areas within 200 miles of the U.S. and Canadian mainland coastline as “emission control areas” which means that there are stricter pollution rules for ships within these boundaries.

“The IMO’s regulation of air pollution from international shipping consists of two layers,” says Marshall. “First, IMO has established a set of emission requirements that apply globally. However, countries that wish to have stricter standards apply to their coastal areas that are impacted by international shipping may seek to have such areas designated by the IMO as ‘Emission Control Areas,’ or ECAs.” The latter is the route taken by the US and Canada. Their coastline is known as the North American ECA. Other geographical areas designated as ECAs by the IMO so far are the North Sea/English Channel and the Baltic Sea — for sulfur emissions only. These two European ECAs impact the coasts of all of the areas surrounding those seas–such as the United Kingdom, northern Europe, Scandinavia, and northeast Russia.

“For too long,” says Marshall, “ships have spewed enormous amounts of pollution along our coasts and in our ports. We applaud the expeditious action by the IMO in adopting this proposal to clean up shipping fuels and emissions.”

Traditionally, ships have burned some of the planet’s dirtiest fuel. Ship pollution is more than 3,000 times dirtier than the fuel burned in U.S. and European diesel cars and trucks, according to the Clean Air Task Force. Ships generate millions of tons of sulfur every year, totaling 10 percent of global sulfur oxide emissions. The end result is acid rain and the formation of secondary fine particulates, which are a major threat to human health.

Marshall is pleased with the IMO’s plan but is disappointed in the IMO’s lack of progress on lessening shipping’s contribution to climate change.

He says that in the 10 years since the Kyoto Climate Treaty, the IMO has not yet adopted one measure specifying reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. These reductions are essential, he says, because emissions of carbon dioxide from international shipping measure about 1 billion tons annually, roughly the size of Germany’s emissions.

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