Money & momentum – efforts to reduce PRD ship emissions
Good news – momentum is building to reduce ship emissions in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region.
Last month, Shenzhen Municipal Human Settlements and Environment Commission informally stated that reducing emissions from ship and port activities will be a primary area of focus this year (link in Chinese only).
The commission’s initiative includes:
- increasing shore-side power facilities at Shenzhen terminals;
- reducing port rates for vessels using cleaner fuel at berth (0.5 percent sulfur content);
- requiring vessels to slow down as they approach the port;
- co-ordinating with Hong Kong and Guangzhou governments for a low emission zone across the PRD by the end of 2013;
- electrifying cargo handling equipment at the ports;
- and tightening vehicle standards for trucks that call at the ports.
This comprehensive focus reflects what leading ports worldwide are doing to address the different sources of pollution at their terminals, such as in Europe and California.
In Hong Kong and the PRD industry, NGOs and relevant government departments have been focusing attention and efforts to reduce ship emissions for several years, with industry actively lobbying government for PRD-wide regulation through the Fair Winds Charter, a voluntary fuel switch initiative.
A few weeks ago, the Hong Kong Government announced a subsidy for ocean going vessels switching to 0.5 percent sulfur fuel while at berth in Hong Kong. Participating ships will receive a discount of 50 percent of harbor and other light dues for up to three years, which will cover 30-50 percent of the additional cost of using cleaner fuel.
This initiative effectively extends the Fair Winds Charter – due to expire in December 2012 – by three years, giving time to prepare for industry-wide regulatio. Given the industry’s support and the public health imperative to clean up, three years may be unnecessarily long, particularly if neighboring Shenzhen is also zeroing in on these emissions.
Ship emissions are a good clean-up target, particularly where high population density meets high vessel traffic; even before other sources such as power generation or factory emissions are fully addressed.
Big ships use bunker fuel, a viscous (think marmite or molasses or old oyster sauce), polluting product left over from the fuel refining process. It’s so thick that only ships with enough space on board for a boiler to heat it and purify it can use it. And because it’s the leftovers, it has a very high sulfur content and contains metals such as vanadium, which are damaging to human health.
The sulfur content of this fuel ranges from 2.5-4.5 percent. When you compare this to the fuel used in road vehicles (in Hong Kong, sulfur content of 0.005 percent), you can immediately see why port cities around the world are trying to get ships to emit less.
The International Maritime Organization, the UN body for the shipping industry, has a marine pollution convention that includes reducing air pollution from the industry, with the tightest standards set in “Emission Control Areas” (ECAs). Ships calling at EU ports must already use 0.1 percent sulfur fuel (or use equivalent technology to meet this standard).
In California, similar regulation exists. Port authorities, notably Long Beach and Los Angeles, have also promoted a variety of environmental practices since 2005 for the San Pedro Bay area, the comprehensiveness of which was particularly noteworthy for other ports.