China Moves to Reduce Ship Emissions

China is beginning to take a tougher stance on its environmental issues. Towards the end of last year, COP21 and Chinese urban air pollution dominated the news, but as unilateral agreements were agreed for the first time and pollution levels prompted the highest-level warnings in the Chinese Capital, in the final month of 2015 a far less publicized piece of legislation was passed aimed at stemming pollution from the shipping industry as the Ministry of Transport launched The Pearl River Delta, Yangtze River Delta, the Bohai Rim (Beijing, Tianjin) waters ships Emission Control Area Implementation Plan.”

This plan, that took effect on 1st January this year, draws up a number of articles that implement tighter measures on shipping tanker emissions in and around the port regions of Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, and Guangzhou. These emissions have been under heavy scrutiny for some years with other countries such as the US and UK taking action to reduce their marine pollution – specifically through sulfur content reductions in fuel. The above plan looks to address this exact issue, for the first time setting low emission zones in and around Chinese ports.

High levels of sulfur emissions, equal to millions of equivalent car emissions, are produced by ships every year and can contribute to myriad health risks – from cancer to asthma. If you have traveled or resided in cities like Shanghai you will know the extent of shipping and the proximity that many ships can have to local residential and tourist areas, and as a result, attempts to regulate their emission are of great importance.

China’s Low Emission Zones

Low Emission Zones Maps - Collective ResponsibilityWithin the plan, it is stated that from 1st January 2016 all ships “with the appropriate capabilities” should reduce their sulfur fuel content to ≤0.5% within a 12-mile coastal buffer (see above). These regulations will become incrementally tighter until 1st January 2019 when “all boats within the area” are required to run on the fuel of ≤0.5%. However, the language in article 6 of the plan implies that sulfur emissions can be “offset” through clean energy use and filter implementation – but to what extent is unclear.

At the end of 2016 a review will be taken, with the success of the plan assessed and decisions will be taken to increase the low emission zone or reduce the fuel requirement to ≤0.1%.

Many may think that the measures do not go far enough when compared to other countries, with the US imposing a buffer zone of 230 miles a number of years ago and, along with Europe and Canada has introduced at 0.1% limit for activity in key emission control areas. Whilst there is no denying that the legislative effort will only be as effective and the regulation imposed, it does represent a move in the right direction for one of the world’s top emitter and shows greater impetus to clean up pollution pervasive in cities and to start reducing the exposure of residence to harmful substances. It incentivizes action through the internalizing of externalities to polluters, forcing them to innovate in ship technology and pay a higher price for cleaner, more distilled fuel.

The plan comes as a greater governmental push for the reduction in externalities has occurred, brought on by greater international pressure, an increasingly concerned and aware citizenship and general acceptance of the need for better environmental quality. Many challenges exist to its implementation including price and availability of low sulfur fuel and the ability of ships to upgrade so only time will tell if China is able to follow through on its reduction ambitions.

For the original document (in Chinese) head here.

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