In all the controversy over toxic air pollution from diesel cars, little is heard of a worse source of pollution – shipping. Large ocean-going ships tend to use bunker fuel, the world’s dirtiest diesel fuel – a toxic, tar-like sludge that usually contains 3,500 times more sulphur than the diesel used for cars. And it’s also cheap.
Shipping accounts for 13% of annual sulphur oxide emissions worldwide. A few countries, including the UK, insist that ships in their national waters use more costly low-sulphur fuel. And although new global rules for shipping to cut sulphur pollution are due to come into force in 2020, the sulphur content of shipping fuel will still be 500 times more than road diesel.
Shipping is the only sector in the world not subject to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and was left out of the UN’s Paris accord on this pollution. When the EU Parliament recently outlined plans to tackle shipping greenhouse gases in Europe Union waters, the shipping industry was not keen on any change.
The industry says no worldwide targets should be set until they have done more monitoring of emissions – which means no action is likely to be taken before 2023.