‘Substantial increase’ in air pollution from shipping

With nitrogen dioxide emissions from shipping projected to rise, the EEA suggests that the shipping sector is ‘currently one of the most unregulated sources of air pollution’

Shipping in Europe is ‘currently one of the most unregulated sources of air pollution’ and emissions from the sector have ‘increased substantially’ over the last two decades, according to a European Environment Agency (EEA) report.

Furthermore, nitrogen oxide emissions from shipping in Europe are projected to increase and could be equal to land-based sources by 2020 onwards, the report states.

Shipping in Europe is 'one of the most unregulated sources of air pollution', the EEA says

Shipping in Europe is ‘one of the most unregulated sources of air pollution’, the EEA says

Published online yesterday (March 14), ‘The impact of international shipping on European air quality and climate forcing’ shows emissions of air pollutants from the shipping sector such as particulate matter PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide have continued to rise since 1990.

Air pollutants emitted by shipping can affect air quality in many areas, particularly around ports and busy shipping channels, and the report’s findings have led EEA to call for a ‘more consistent, European-wide approach’ for monitoring and reporting of air pollutant emissions from the sector.

However, the report also highlights the success of EU legislation in reducing sulphur dioxide emissions from shipping, which it says will continue to decrease further from 2020 onwards. The EU legislation has placed stricter limits on the sulphur content in fuel than international standards (see story), and the EEA expects this to also lead to a decrease in PM2.5 emissions.

Indeed, most emission types have decreased since 2006 due to legislation and the economic downturn, according to the report, but key pollutants from international shipping departing from EU ports such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter PM2.5 have actually increased between 35 and 55% from 1990 to 2010.

The EEA suggests that while some air pollutants from shipping are emitted far from land, around 70% of the global emissions from ships are within 400 km of coastlines. This rate is much higher in European waters and some pollutants from ships can travel hundreds of kilometres in the atmosphere.

In some areas, the EEA study found that ships can contribute up to 20-30% of the local particulate matter PM2.5 concentrations. Also, around some busy ports and shipping channels ships can contribute as much as 80% of nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide pollution.

However, the report highlights that although there are some modelling studies, there are relatively few measurement data available to attribute shipping’s contribution to local air pollution.

Tackling emissions from shipping

The best way of reducing shipping emissions, according to the EEA study, is to reduce fuel consumption. It recommends technical improvements and different ship operating procedures to improve fuel efficiency, which the report states ‘may be the easiest way to cut both air pollution and greenhouse gases’.

One option highlighted in the report is ‘slow steaming’. This would see ships reducing their speed by 10%, which the EEA says could cut energy demand by around 19%. ‘End-of-pipe’ emissions reductions technologies such as sea water scrubbing can also reduce air pollutants, but would not address greenhouse gases, according to the EEA.

Some shipping sectors are also switching to Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) fuels, the report notes, which eradicates sulphur dioxide emissions and reduces emissions of nitrogen dioxide by 80% and carbon dioxide by 20%.

Jacqueline McGlade, EEA executive director, said: “This study shows the complex effects different emissions are having on the planet. We need initiatives that protect the environment as an overall system. The choice between either clean air or mitigating climate change is a false dichotomy — Europe needs both. By avoiding unnecessary movement of goods and improving transport efficiency, we can address both air pollution and greenhouse gas mitigation together.”

The report is available on the EEA website.

Another report by the EEA published last month found that air pollution from heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) is costing Europe up to £49 billion per year (see story).


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David Nutzuki
David Nutzuki
11 years ago

Smog advisories, alerts and watches are not smog days, they are predictions of possible smog days happening within the next 36 hours and the Rust Belt hasn’t had a smog warning day in seven years!

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