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Diving Deeper

Our Work on Methane in Shipping

Work Area: Methane Pollution Prevention

For almost a decade, CATF has played a significant role in various efforts to reduce the air pollution and climate impacts of international shipping.

As a founding member of the Clean Shipping Coalition, a coalition of international NGOs working to improve the environmental performance of the international shipping sector, CATF has played a key role in reducing black carbon emissions associated with the shipping industry and the tightening of controls on SOx and NOx emissions. Now, CATF’s focus is also expanding to include accelerating deep decarbonization of the shipping sector through the use of zero-carbon liquid fuels.

Currently, CATF is working to reduce black carbon emissions from the shipping sector and is committed to securing a legally binding phase out of the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in Arctic waters. This effort is particularly critical given the rapid rate of warming in the Arctic and the numerous threats that the use of HFO as bunker fuel poses to the Arctic region. Not only does burning HFO increase the risk of an HFO spill in the sensitive Arctic marine environment, but it also produces harmful emissions that negatively impact climate change and human health. Specifically, HFO produces significantly higher emissions of sulphur, nitrogen oxides, and black carbon than distillate fuels. In addition, black carbon, which is the strongest light-absorbing component of particulate matter, has a particularly potent climate warming effect when emitted at high latitudes. When black carbon falls on light-colored surfaces, such as Arctic snow and ice, the amount of sunlight reflected back into space is reduced. This process increases the rate of snow and ice melt in the Arctic and ultimately promotes a self-reinforcing cycle that accelerates climate change and its myriad of global impacts. In fact, a recent study found that a pound of black carbon emitted from in-Arctic sources warms the Arctic five times more than a pound of black carbon emitted elsewhere.¹

Given the serious risks associated with the use of HFO in the Arctic, CATF is working to influence ongoing negotiations at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency responsible for preventing pollution from ships, and discussions at the Arctic Council, a high-level intergovernmental forum comprised of the eight Arctic nations and the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. CATF’s efforts include raising awareness of the risks of HFO use in the Arctic and engaging with U.S. officials and key industry representatives to maintain support from the U.S. for a ban on the use and carriage of HFO as fuel by ships operating in Arctic waters. CATF is also working closely with international NGOs to obtain the support of other Arctic nations for a phase out of the use of HFO in Arctic waters.

In addition, CATF worked with the EPA and others at the IMO to prevent the delay of the 0.5% global sulfur limit, which will be implemented in 2020. The decision to implement the global low sulphur fuel cap in 2020 as opposed to 2025 will prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths due to less toxic fumes, mainly in coastal communities in the developing world. CATF is working hard to not only ensure that the global sulphur standards go into effect in 2020, but also that the IMO and Arctic Council continue to address the risks associated with HFO use and black carbon emissions from Arctic shipping.

CATF’s work on this issue will likely continue for the next few years.

CATF’s Past Shipping Work

CATF has played a significant role in efforts to reduce the air pollution and climate impacts of international shipping for the past decade. When the representative nations of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) met to revise the 1997 treaty that contained the first international regulation of air pollution from ships, CATF was there as the main technical representative of the world NGO environmental community. These negotiations were much informed by CATF’s 2007 commissioning of an independent study which demonstrated that particulate air pollution from oceangoing ships causes a staggering 60,000 premature deaths per year around the world, a number that is projected to grow steadily along with world trade and shipping traffic. CATF also commissioned and presented to the IMO a follow-up study showing that aggressive action by the IMO to reduce shipping air pollution (action similar to what IMO ended up taking), could reduce the estimated annual premature death toll from international shipping by more than 50%.

Thanks in large measure to these studies and to the attention they received during the IMO negotiations, IMO finalized in 2008 the first meaningful standards for air pollution from international shipping. These standards required:

  • Sulfur dioxide reductions of more than 90% in designated geographic areas near coastal and port areas by 2015, and about 80% globally by 2020; and
  • Nitrogen oxide reductions of about 80% from new ships in designated geographic areas near coastal and port areas by 2016, and about 20% globally from 2011; nitrogen oxide emissions from certain larger existing ships must also be reduced by about 15-20% from 2010.

Because earlier and deeper reductions are applicable under the new IMO rules only in designated coastal areas, CATF urged the United States and other progressive countries to designate their coastlines as “emission control areas.” In 2009, the US and Canada submitted a joint proposal to IMO to designate most North American coastal waters out to 200 miles as such an area, and the IMO approved it in 2010.

It turned out that promulgation of the regulations was not the end of CATF’s work on the matter. And these regulations are critically important—EPA has estimated that they will save up to 31,000 lives per year by 2030, benefits that substantially exceed those of two of EPA’s other major recent mobile source air pollution rules combined: EPA’s 2004 rule covering land—based nonroad engines and EPA’s 2008 rule addressing locomotives and inland and coastal shipping. Fighting to preserve these regulations, CATF has over the past few years led a coalition of environmental and public health organizations to turn back efforts by the cruise industry and others to weaken and delay these tougher standards from going into effect in North America. With our help, EPA has been able to hold the line and keep the North American SO2 and NOx regulations intact, and they are poised to go into effect on schedule in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

In addition to our efforts at the IMO, CATF has also worked to convince EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to move forward with their shipping emissions regulations. Over the past few years, CARB promulgated regulations to reduce particulate emissions from auxiliary and main diesel engines on ocean-going ships, as well as diesel engines on smaller inland and coastal boats. For its part, EPA promulgated strict new air pollution limits in 2008 for new inland and coastal marine diesel engines, and finalized regulations in 2010 to tighten limits on ocean-going ships sailing within the designated US emission control area.

As a founding member of the Clean Shipping Coalition, CATF has also strived to bring attention to the climate impacts of shipping emissions of black carbon in the Arctic and near-Arctic regions. In particular, CATF strongly supported the 2010 submission by the United States, Norway, and Sweden to the IMO to consider reductions of black carbon emissions from international shipping. At the same time, CATF recognizes that important research questions remain, and have provided substantial information to IMO regarding the emissions of black carbon from shipping in the high North and the resultant impacts on the Arctic climate.

Finally, CATF and the Clean Shipping Coalition played an active role in IMO efforts to enact a Polar Code to govern the safety and environmental aspects of ships sailing in Arctic waters.

¹ Sand, M., T. Berntsen, Ø. Seland and J.E. Kristjánsson, 2013b. Arctic surface temperature change to emissions of black carbon within Arctic or midlatitudes. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 118:7788-7798.