SOx numbers need more thought

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

14 October 2016


According to one report, delaying the reduction in the SOx global cap by five years will result in more than half a million premature deaths between 2020 and 2025. Much of this is of course conjecture and is based upon estimations of traffic growth made in some cases more than a decade ago before any of the ECAs now operating were even approved by the IMO. For example the EU’s Impact assessment for the Communication on Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution and The Directive on “Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe” was reported in September 2005 and is still being quoted today as a reliable source for confirming that SOx emissions from shipping will have overtaken all other sources by 2020. According to that report, total emissions for SOx in 2000 from land-based sources was 8,735ktonnes and from sea transport 2,430ktonnes. However, by 2020, the report’s authors forecast that land emissions would have dropped to just 2,805ktonnes but those from ships increased to 3,526ktonnes. What would not have been expected in 2005 is that by 2016 global trade would have dropped as dramatically as it has and instead the figures would likely have been calculated based on a continuing upward trend. Of course, the authors could not have known in 2005 that the Baltic and North Sea SECAs (approved by the IMO in 2008) would cut emissions and the EU’s own directive on imposing an even lower rate for vessels in ports would come into effect in 2010. In September this year, HELCOM reported at a meeting in Tallinn that between 2006 and 2015, SOx emissions from shipping in the Baltic were down by 88%. Quite clearly much of that reduction has been down to the effect of the SECA and so a similar effect could be expected in the North Sea SECA as well. On a global scale the effect of the US ECAs will probably have reduced emissions by a similar amount but over a much shorter period. The figures in the EU’s 2005 report related solely to the EU and it needs to be said that the reduction in land-based emissions through to 2020 was based upon a reduction in coal use for power generation. Given that coal use around the world has actually increased in the intervening period and particularly in Asia, the share that shipping contributes to global totals is probably very much less today than it was predicted to be. There are other reports and statistics that can be found in the public domain that put shipping’s share of emissions at quite a low level when other SOx producing activities are taken into account. Power production generally accounts for most with cement production, manufacturing industries, refining and even residential sources being higher than shipping’s share of the total. Illness and death are not matters to be used in targeting an industry that arguably contributes much more to health and well being by permitting trade, alleviating poverty and delivering needed resources without those making the claims to consider the benefits. Everything comes at a price.