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Sulfur regulations from 2020 for the shipping industry


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On 28th of October, IMO agreed to limit the sulfur content in ships’ fuel from 3,5% to 0,5%.

The discussion in London in end October was regarding whether or not to implement the new regulations in 2025 or 2020, and an agreement was made on 2020. 

The new regulations will reduce the shipping industry’s emission of Sulfur Dioxide by 85% thus reducing an annual amount of premature deaths by 200.000 .

While 90% of all consumer goods have been on a journey on a ship, the shipping industry is by far the biggest polluter. 

In East Asia alone studies indicate that ships are responsible for 24.000 premature deaths annually .

According to WHO air pollution causes 7 million annual, prematur deaths, and that it is now the single biggest environmental health risk.

What is sulfur dioxide?

Sulfur dioxide (It’s chemical formula is SO2) is a colorless reactive gaseous air pollutant with a pungent odor. It can pose a threat to human health, animal health, and plant life.

Health and ecological effects of sulfur pollution

Sulfur is highly damaging for our health and for the ecosystem.

Health effects

Sulfur dioxide affects the respiratory system, particularly lung function, and can irritate the eyes.

When sulfur dioxide irritates the respiratory tract and increases the risk of tract infections. It causes coughing, mucus secretion and aggravates conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis. 

In areas with high levels of Sulfur Dioxide, active people are more at risk than non-active people, thus preventing the basic necessary exercise .

Ecological effects

The ecological effects of Sulphur oxides (SOx) and sulphuric acid (H2SO4) include changes in water chemistry. This impacts aquatic vegetation, invertebrate communities, amphibians, and fish. Deposition also cause chemical changes in soils that alter soil microorganisms, plants, and trees. 

Sulfur furthermore has a damaging impact essential ecosystem services such as air and water purification, decomposition and detoxification of waste materials, climate regulation, and regeneration of soil fertility, production, and biodiversity maintenance, and a common occurrence in highly polluted areas in acid rain.

The shipping industry until 2020

The decision by IMO has been well received by shipowners , in spite of estimations of a cost of $40 billion for the shipping industry . 

A main challenge for the shipping industry remains the implementation. International shipping association, BIMCO, suggests that there might not be enough low-sulfur available by 2020 to fulfill the demand .

Experts foresee that the shipping industry will work to reduce its CO2 emission by 50% until 2050.