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jueves, 2 de septiembre de 2010

Shipping must give to a cleaner planet

Source: Daily Astorian
Scientific American calls bunker fuel ‘some of the nastiest stuff on earth’
It's a classic case of "out of sight, out of mind": The bunker fuel used by many seagoing vessels is estimated to cause tens of thousands of premature deaths worldwide every year. Steps are slowly being taken to tighten regulations on this oily gunk, but it's safe to surmise that they will be unenforced in most waters.

In its current "highly selective list of human creations the world would be better off without," Scientific American reports "Cargo ships burn some of the nastiest stuff on earth: bunker fuel. Cheap and untaxed, it's a low-grade oil that is as thick as hot tar."

On the open ocean, ships burn a noxious variety of bunker oil that is 4.5 percent sulfur - compared to 0.0015 percent sulfur in the diesel used in U.S. motor vehicles. Bunker fuel and its emissions kill about 90,000 people a year.

While it's important to note that the picturesque ships that drop anchor or slip past Astoria each day are on their best behavior, it's also true that they belong to companies and to an industry that emit much of the poisonous sulfur dioxide in earth's atmosphere. Beyond this, the international shipping fleet emits 2.7 percent of all carbon dioxide. If it "were a country, it would be the world's sixth-highest greenhouse gas emitter, right behind Japan and just ahead of Germany," Scientific American says.

When it comes to sulfur, the International Maritime Organization is gradually tightening controls. But in the near-term, these apply only to the most environmentally conscious areas such as the California Coast, where a 1.5 percent cap on bunker fuel sulfur is set to drop to 1 percent. By 2020, all bunker fuel is supposed to have less than 0.5 percent sulfur, which might halve its death toll.

But it is difficult to feel much optimism about prospects for this really happening or being well enforced.

Here on the West Coast, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association is pushing for a voluntary approach, according to the CleanTechies blog. The group has been an active litigant in efforts to block, limit and slow state efforts to regulate bunker fuel.

Considering much of the world is even less environmentally aware than Americans are, it is unlikely other nations would be willing to join us in the competitive disadvantage of requiring cleaner, but more expensive, fuel.

On the greenhouse gas issue, a working group of the United Nations Marine Environment Protection Committee is supposed to report back this month with new recommendations on things like ship sizes, target dates and reduction rates. But the UN continues to postpone mandatory fuel efficiency standards for ships.

The fact is that ocean-going ships remain among the most cost-effective means of moving freight great distances. But with such shipping and its greenhouse gas emissions expected to increase by 150 to 250 percent by mid-century, ships simply cannot be permitted to continue sliding beneath the world's regulatory radar screen.

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