The engines of container vessels emit sulfur oxide (SOx) when combusting fuel. SOx not only directly impact the health of the coastal communities living near major shipping routes, but it also deteriorates our environment.
As far as human health is concerned, SOx has been proven to increase cardiovascular diseases and strokes. It can also create pulmonary diseases. Lung cancer cases are soaring on coastal regions and asthma is affecting an increasing number of children. A 2016 study submitted to IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) estimated that reducing the sulfur dioxide emissions limit would help prevent 570,000 additional premature deaths worldwide between 2020 and 2025.
Sulfur negatively impacts our environment, too. The sulfur emitted acidifies water and our oceans, harming aquatic species and wildlife. And as clouds make their way back to the land, acid rain damages the soil of coastal regions, causing harm to crops and forests through acidification.
From 3.5% in the past, the new sulfur content limit in marine fuels is set at 0.5%, and as low as 0.1% in designated emission control areas (ECA) such as the United States and Canada’s coastal regions. It will lead to a 77% drop in overall sulfur oxide emissions from ships – the equivalent to an annual reduction of approximately 8.5 million metric tons of sulfur oxide.
These efforts to reduce sulfur emissions – agreed to by the major global trade actors – represent a major humanitarian step forward in the fight against climate change.