Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shipping And Truck Pollution In Lead Up To Copenhagen

Can Industry Change Enough to Avert a Global Meltdown?
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – As the worlds nations gear up to face the harsh realities of carbon reduction, the EU squabbles about money and Gordon Brown wrings his hands and tells anyone who will listen that the future is catastrophic, vested interests in the world of shipping, trucking and airfreight are all fighting to preserve their profits.

Many companies show a carbon friendly face to the world and that must be applauded. What is certain though is that effective governmental action is required at the December UN sponsored Copenhagen conference in what is building to be the most important political event of modern times.

Across the world people are beginning to rationalise the statistics. The US estimates that $330 billion is now spent in America alone treating the people affected by shipping pollution, including an estimated 60,000 deaths per annum. To negate the effect the States have introduced a 230 mile noxious emission control area around the coast with neighbouring nations likely to follow. Given the length of coastline imagine the emission statistics from countries bordering the English Channel, the world’s busiest shipping lane only some 20 miles or so wide.

Given that the Danish Government estimates its country's losses in terms of medical costs and deaths to be £5 billion and 1000 respectively the effects on Britain, Holland, France and Belgium can only be imagined. Last night EU environment ministers meeting in Luxembourg agreed to table aviation and shipping pollution as crucial targets for reduction at the Copenhagen meeting but finance ministers continued to squabble over who pays the developing nations to fall into line. Even if they do finally agree on figures they will then have to contend with vested interests from the other world powers principally China, India and the US who all have their own views and agendas.

The UN International Maritime Association (IMO) has been heavily criticised in the past for talking a good fight without effectively reducing the ship generated pollution which is under scrutiny. The principal problem is the low grade bunker fuels which many of the world’s fleets consume daily on a vast scale. A recent report claimed the sulphur level in marine fuel oil was 2000 times greater than that in refined car diesel. This means one vessel might emit as much toxic matter as fifty million cars. These materials lead to chronic lung problems and many are carcinogens.

Trucks too are a bone of contention. Now the American Trucking Association (ATA) and the Port of Long Beach have settled their long Court battle over access terms for lorries entering the docks there may be a model for all US Ports to follow as desired by the mayors of New York and Newark this week. Long Beach has reduced pollution by 80% under the programme, two years ahead of schedule whilst the Port of Los Angeles has achieved 70% reductions in the same time. Owners of older polluting vehicles entering the Long Beach dock area will continue to pay fees to enter the site.

Although most civilised countries are taking notice of the need to adapt to a carbon reduced economy, Sweden are calling for around 90% reductions within forty years, much of the legislation is, as usual, piecemeal and budget dependent. What is required from the politicians of all hues and nations in December is firm and concerted action to deal with the problem before as Gordon Brown puts it “if we do not reach a deal…. It will be irretrievably too late”.

Pic: Long Beach Middle Harbour