Global Warming Pollution from Ships to be Discussed at IMO

Global Warming Pollution from Ships to be Discussed at IMO

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 New international regulations to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from ships will be considered in London next week at the United Nation’s International Maritime Organization meeting which is being held from July 13 to July 17, 2009. 

The meeting will host over 170 Member States and Associate Members, plus shipping industry groups, and environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth. The gathering will focus on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, an extremely contentious issue which has divided the organization’s members.  In addition, the meeting will address whether a first-of-its-kind U.S./Canada clean shipping zone proposal will be considered.  It will also address environmental requirements for Arctic shipping, which is expanding rapidly without adequate oversight.

Global Warming

  • Problem: Emissions of greenhouse gases from ships are on the rise. International shipping currently generates about three percent of the world’s carbon dioxide, but by 2050, if no restrictions are put in place, it could contribute up to 18 percent of the total.  
  • Tools: A variety of tools are available to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from ships and will be considered at the meeting.  A 2009 IMO study found that improved ship design alone can decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 10-50 percent, while enhanced operations could result in another 10-50 percent reduction. The use of market-based instruments, such as a fuel levy, is also an effective tool for achieving reductions and will be considered at the meeting.
  • Obstacles: Unfortunately, developed and developing countries remain at an impasse. If no tangible results are achieved, the IMO may lose its ability to engage in the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December.

Toxic Air Pollution

  • Air quality in port communities such as Oakland, Los Angeles, Houston, Charleston, and New York City is unsafe due, in large part, to shipping and port-related air pollution.  Ships using dirty fuels emit air toxins, particulates, and smog-forming gases which decrease lung function and cause heart disease and cancer.
  • The U.S. and Canada recently submitted a joint Emission Control Area application to the IMO requesting a 230-mile protected zone in most of the countries’ waters. While travelling in the protected zone, ships would have to use cleaner fuels and reduce smog-forming emissions.
  • The public health and environmental benefits of this protected zone would be enormous. By 2020, it is projected to prevent 8,300 premature deaths and millions of lung diseases, with healthcare savings of up to $60 billion.


  • The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world.  Black carbon particle emissions released from ships traveling in the Arctic warm the air and can also reduce the reflectivity of ice and snow, thereby increasing melting rates.
  • Recent studies find black carbon is responsible for almost half of Arctic warming.
  • Approximately 3,000 marine vessels operated in the Arctic in 2004 alone, and that number is likely to increase as summer sea ice disappears.
  • The greenhouse gas measures that will be discussed at the IMO meeting do not specifically target black carbon emissions from ships.  Friends of the Earth has formally requested that the U.S. IMO delegation begin working with other Arctic State parties to the IMO to lay the groundwork for regional reductions of black carbon emissions from ships.