Clear sailing toward shipping emissions regulation?

Sunday, November 27th, 2011
Kwai Chung Container Port at night

A groundbreaking marine emissions inventory of vessel traffic in Hong Kong, commissioned by the Environmental Protection Department, and presented at a recent conference, helps us to understand the extent of air pollution from vessels in this city.

This is one of the first inventories of its kind in Asia, with similar work being done by government bodies in Shanghai and Taiwan. The Hong Kong study will likely raise awareness about the impact that these emissions can have in port cities.

Collecting data is critical for evidence-based policy-making. From this scientific research, policy makers can develop specific regulation to address emissions from these sources in a targeted and informed way. This regulation should be consistent with international best practices and conventions.

Preliminary findings show the extent and location of these emissions by using an activity-based approach, taking into account factors like the type of vessel activity (cruising, at berth, maneuvering), the emission source (main engine, auxiliary engine, auxiliary boiler) and the engine activity to give an accurate estimation of actual emissions from ships and boats.

The inventory shows that almost 80 percent of sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from vessels come from ocean going vessels (OGVs), while 12 percent are attributed to river vessels and 9 percent to local craft. NOx emissions are more evenly distributed amongst these vessel types, with 44 percent from OGVs, 24 percent from river vessels, and 32 percent from local craft.

Of SO2 emissions from OGVs, 79.5 percent come from container vessels, and 9.2 percent come from cruise ships and ferries connecting Hong Kong to Macau as well as Mainland China. Container vessels and cruise ships share similar proportions of NOx emissions (79.4 percent and 11.1 percent respectively).

Finally, the inventory reveals that 30-40 percent of emissions from OGVs happen when the vessels are at berth.

These findings are important because they pinpoint the significance of emissions from vessels, as well as when and where they emit the most. This gives a point of focus to future regulation.

Lots of emissions happen at berth, and given how close terminals are to dense populations in Hong Kong, addressing these emissions in particular is important. At-berth regulation is something that the shipping industry in Hong Kong continues to support through the Fair Winds Charter, the industry-led, voluntary, at-berth fuel switch for OGVs.

It is also important to note that a large proportion of pollution is emitted in major shipping lanes, which surround Hong Kong, so regulating at-berth emissions is just a first step.

The findings from the inventory provided a focus for the experts attending the Civic Exchange conference on vessel emissions. Relevant authorities from Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Shanghai, as well as a contingent of officials from Indonesia participated in the conference, indicating a high level of emerging interest in reducing emissions from vessels within the region. Experts and officials from the EU and the US also shared their expertise. Port operators from Hong Kong and Shenzhen, along with local craft operators, and fuel suppliers from Hong Kong also attended.

One expert pointed out that the Pearl River Delta region is the best place in the world to make public health gains from reducing emissions from vessels, given the population density adjacent to high vessel traffic in the region.

The shipping industry reiterated its support for regulation across the PRD, prompting a representative from the EU to comment on the positive nature of this support, which was not always present in similar discussions in Europe. Participants agreed that the Hong Kong government must take advantage of this positive and unusual support for tighter regulation quickly.

So what’s next? Using the inventory know-how, the EPD has already seen a slight decrease in emissions from vessels likely due to the Fair Winds Charter, which has been running for almost a year.

The challenges are now to get more shipping lines to support regulation through the Charter, as well as not to lose the gains made through it. Regulation must kick in once it’s over in December 2012 to sustain this progress. If this can’t happen because of a slow regulatory process, then perhaps the shipping lines can be persuaded to extend their participation if government incentives are present to bridge the gap between the end of the Charter to the beginning of regulation.

The industry wants to be included in these discussions, and for them to happen quickly, and with a stated time-line so they have time to prepare for regulatory changes. Policy in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong is aligning and focusing on emissions from vessels along with other sustainability challenges for the region.

The pieces are in place for some quick wins from this willing sector.



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