Transport (Aviation and Shipping) and Air Pollution

The Ramphal Institute hosted a successful first Ramphal virtual round table (webinar) on Transport (Aviation and Shipping) and Air Pollution under the Commonwealth Programme to Improve Urban Air Quality project. The event was moderated by David Gomez, Director of the Institute, and featured Dr. Lucy Gilliam of Transport & Environment, Dr. John Calleya of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and Michael Wanyama of Auto-safety Uganda. The panel discussed measures currently being undertaken to reduce transport related air pollution by national and municipal governments in Commonwealth countries. The work of international organisations on this issue was also highlighted. Dr Calleya for instance spoke of the IMO’s targets under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) for reducing ship greenhouse gas emissions, and the requirement for having all ships to have mandatory energy efficiency plans. Meanwhile, Transport & Environment has been “working with members of the Clean Shipping Coalition to further reduce air pollution and climate impact of shipping globally.”

The main take-aways from the Round table were that (1) local interventions are needed to limit air pollution from ships in port cities and from road transportation in city centres; (2) greater levels of cooperation are needed to set and enforce targets for the future; and (3) green technology is emerging and improving, but in the meantime, the use of diesel and other ‘dirty’ fuel sources such as bunker oil need to be kept to a minimum so as to reduce the negative health impact on humans. A full video of the webinar is available on the Ramphal Institute’s  YouTube and a brief summary of the discussions is provided below.

Maritime Shipping: In Port and at Sea

It is estimated that emissions from the shipping sector amounts to as much as 3.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, or about a one billion tons annually. According to T&E black carbon accounts for about 21% of CO2 emissions, while 15% of NOx, and 13% for SOx. T&E also found that the majority of ship emissions is from international shipping (about 85%). Shipping contributes to approximately 400,000 premature deaths per year worldwide, at an annual cost to society of more than €58 billion according to recent scientific studies. In port regions, around half to 2/3rd of total air pollutant emissions can come from ships (Cullinane, 2014). There are hotspot areas in Europe where the contribution of shipping to air pollutant emissions can be up to 80 % for NOx and SO2 and up to 25 % for primary PM2.5 (EEA, 2013). The Pollution from global shipping and cruises blows to shore and impacts coastal communities, particularly port cities where big ships idle. Cruise chips emit more than 10 times the sulfur pollution than all of Europe’s cars and half of pollution in port cities is the result of shipping.

Several local and regional initiatives have been implemented in Commonwealth ports, aimed at limiting pollution coming from merchant and cruise ships. Unlike the European Union, Commonwealth countries do not yet have any collective agreement for zero emissions from ships while in ports. Preventing idling and switching to renewables while moored  in ports or within specific distances of cities, towns and urban areas and designating waters surrounding ports as emission control areas help ships to emit less of the gases that are harmful to human health. These interventions could prove important for small island developing states (SIDS) nationals in the commonwealth who rely on ship transport or receive a lot of cruise liners in their ports.

Some are of the view that, compared to road transport, merchant shipping is relatively more efficient given the distances and weight they carry; however, this advantage does not deny that shipping produces emissions that are harmful to human health. This is particularly because of the types of fuels used by ships and the fact that many ships are older. Other main limitations to reducing emissions on long-haul shipping routes are the current technologies in older ships and costs of switching to new more efficient energy sources. For instance, while electrification technologies for shipping exists, these are appropriate for short sea and inland routes, and cannot currently be used for long distances. Similarly, alternative fuels which are increasingly being used, have lower energy density meaning that long haul ships would need to take more, which would increase weight, reduce efficiency and increase costs. Still, there is promise that the industry can improve. For example, ships can switch to a combination hen ships are in transit: wind power, speed reduction and increases in efficiency are ways to reduce pollution.

The IMO, the UN’s international body regulating shipping focuses on air pollution and efficiency. The IMO has higher international coverage and works closely with ship builders; most regulations target the design of new ships, but the IMO recently passed regulations for all existing ships and set new targets for 2050. The new regulations call for improvements in efficiency and the use of alternative green fuels. Given that the shipping industry is growing, all ships will need to improve their efficiency in order for the industry to meet its targets.

According to T&E’s Dr. Lucy Gilliam, the IMO’s current measures are currently not enough to meet the requirements of the Paris Climate Agreement. The international shipping sector would have to be zero emissions by 2030 to meet the Climate Agreement’s goals. For this to happen, all levels of government, and substantial cross-industry action are needed to zero out emissions from shipping.

Road Transportation

Road transportation is a significant contributor to green-house gas emissions and has been receiving significant attention in many Commonwealth countries as municipal governments take ambitious measures to significantly lower emissions, particularly in city centres. In the United Kingdom deadlines have been set for banning the sale of new diesel (and hybrid) vehicles as one way of phasing out the use diesel in order to limit the harms of air pollution. This will force road shipping to shift to the use of cleaner forms of energy, including electrification, especially in populated city centres. This could see a shift to the use smaller, lighter and electric vehicles. While local urban attempts to limit cars in city centres have not limited shipping and trucks, it would be valuable to consolidate diesel shipping vehicles outside of centres and rely on cleaner fleets for the “last mile.”

By Noemi Ventilla

Watch the webinar on YouTube