Smog is a common sight in Hong Kong, with the amount of polluted days increasing by 28 percent to 303 so far this year.
Hong Kongers would be quick to point the finger at Chinese factories across the border. Yet, research is increasingly indicating that the problem is much more localized, coming from emissions produced by shipping.
“What we know in Hong Kong is that up to 50% of pollution [locally produced] sources come from marine vessels,” said Gina McCarthy, administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Smog levels within the city of over 7 million reached hazardous levels earlier this week, with particles in one urban area, Sham Shui Po hitting a PM2.5, hitting 91.7 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Anything above 71 is classified as “very dangerous” according to the World Health Organization guidelines.
Maritime pollution in Hong Kong is blamed for the most sulfur dioxide-related deaths within the region. According to a recent report jointly compiled by the Civic Exchange and The University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong saw 385 deaths caused by the hazardous chemical, for which shipping is to blame.
The city lacks regulations in tackling maritime pollution, as there is no legislation or requirements for shipping companies to switch to cleaner fuel when entering Hong Kong waters.
Less than a week after favourable weather cleared the skies of Hong Kong, the city is covered again in particles. It has become a common refrain for city officials to sing of their achievements in switching out diesel engines from the roads, and after that for Legco members to debate to no end as to how (un)successful their measures have been in improving the city’s air quality.
It is also commonly known, albeit with less attention paid, that cargo ships – especially ocean-going vessels – are a major contributor to pollutants as they move through the waters of Hong Kong. In addition to Hong Kong’s own Kwai Chung terminal, ships docking at Shenzhen’s Yantian and Shekou terminals pass through channels east and west of Hong Kong respectively, meaning Hong Kong bears the brunt of the emissions whichever way the prevailing winds blow.
Thus far, Hong Kong’s policymakers have only implemented a weak policy – incentivising ships docking at Kwai Chung to switch to cleaner fuels when moving in Hong Kong, transitioning into a compulsory requirement by Sep 2014. Meanwhile, there are already complaints that this would ‘hurt competitiveness’ of the Kwai Chung terminal in comparison with Shenzhen’s terminals (of which Hong Kong’s Hutchison Whampoa, and the Wharf, are shareholders).
The situation can be greatly improved if Hong Kong officials can push for the implementation of an Emissions Control Area, which will effectively make the same clean fuel requirements for Shenzhen’s terminals. This may call for cross-border co-operation between policymakers in order for the policy to be strictly enforced, but if Hong Kong officials wish to display some real work done, there can be no better opportunity.
Clear The Air has prepared a brief document on this issue.
from Anita Lam of the SCMP:
Shipping lines are fighting a new environmental regulation that they said will not only lead to stringent control over their operations but will also pave the way for a carbon trading policy resembling the one that sparked controversy in the aviation sector.
To curb greenhouse gas emissions produced by the maritime trade – expected to more than double by 2050 from 1 billion tonnes per year at present – the European Commission is seeking to legislate a draft rule it made in late June requiring mandatory provision of data from carriers on their vessels’ fuel type, fuel efficiency and payload (the total weight of fuel and cargo).
Kamar Zaman, a veteran analyst at Drewry Shipping Consultants, said it is infeasible if not impossible to ask a carrier to weigh all its containers.
“How will you weigh those boxes, which come in millions? What kind of disruption will it cause to daily operations, and who is going to pay for the cost?” Zaman said.
There are many firms and government bodies that calculate vessel emissions with readily available data provided by ship manufacturers and carriers.
But the European Union wants a closer look, in the hope of imposing operational guidelines for the trade and ultimately an emissions trading scheme like the one it imposed on the aviation sector, which requires airlines that produce more carbon dioxide to buy credits from those that produce less.
The shipping industry worldwide has been raising the alarm about the possible changes.
Christopher Koch, president and chief executive of the Washington-based World Shipping Council, said it is quite impossible for carriers to comply with standards that regulate how much fuel they use, how fast they sail a ship and how they maintain it, which is like “teaching drivers how to drive”.
There are many factors that govern fuel use and vessel speed, he said, including the weather, the need to meet schedules and outrunning pirates.
Shipping lines have already been adapting to methods such as slow steaming, forming alliances to share resources and using new, fuel-efficient vessels to save fuel and cut costs in the wake of the downturn in the industry last year.
The Hong Kong Shipowners Association said there is a limit to how much fuel you can save.
“You might be able to drive your car more efficiently,” said Arthur Bowring, the group’s managing director.
“But how can you drive it to increase efficiency by a set amount every year?”
Until now, shipping has been the only form of transport excluded from the EU’s strategy to cut emissions, but Zaman said that was only because it would be very difficult to identify the party that should bear the extra costs.
“Unlike aviation, where the airline is clearly responsible, there could be up to 20 consignees for one vessel,” Zaman said, referring to the fact that a shipowner may charter the vessel to a carrier, which then commissions a third party to operate the ship, the space in which is usually shared by several carriers.
The EU draft is expected to enter into force in July 2015, although the first reporting period for carriers would begin in January 2018.
28 Nov 2013
Ocean-going vessels, burning bunker fuels with 2.75-4% sulphur content, is a major contributor of air pollutants to Hong Kong. Prevailing winds bring sulphur particles into the ‘urban canyons’ of Hong Kong, where the concentration of particles are increased, posing a huge health hazard to Hong Kong residents.
Shipping lines are now complaining that the requirements imposed by the Hong Kong government to use cleaner fuels will increase their cost of business, and demands that the government extends a subsidy scheme that incentivises the use of cleaner fuels (the scheme does not end until Sep 2015). Alarmist warnings about ‘competitiveness’ with Shenzhen are being sent out, aiming to panick and pressurize the authorities to provide more incentives for doing what is right, even though they can share the extra costs with their clients as per usual business practices.
Of note is that Hong Kong is ‘the only Asian city to impose such a requirement’. Hong Kong should not step backwards from the rare occasion of being the lead in an environmentally-friendly policy, with developing economies increasingly adopting environmental technologies and policies ahead of Hong Kong.
from Anita Lam of the SCMP:
Ships calling at Hong Kong will face higher costs when legislation requiring vessels to switch to cleaner marine fuel upon berthing is passed next year.
Some carriers may, as a result, switch to neighbouring ports in Shenzhen.
To prevent this, shipowners said, the government should consider extending a scheme that subsidises shipping lines – many of which are expected to suffer losses this year – for the extra cost of the clean fuel.
However, a government official said, an extension is unlikely.