China Fighting Air Pollution in Air, Land, and Sea

This post was co-authored with my colleagues Winslow Robertson, Freda Fung and Zhixi Zhu.

The NRDC delegation together with officials from the Shanghai Maritime Safety Administration and the Shanghai Municipal Transport Commission

China has been rightly lauded for signing the Paris Agreement at the United Nations on Earth Day, April 22, and pledging to formally ratify the Agreement before the G20 Hangzhou summit in September this year. As part of China’s multi-front war against climate change and air pollution, the country is also pushing through bold reforms to combat air emissions from ports and shipping, after years of effort to introduce tougher fuel and vehicle standards on its roads.

China’s amended Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law gives the government clear legal authority to both tackle shipping emissions and use Emission Control Areas (ECAs) to set more stringent air pollution requirements for ships in important port areas. In late 2015, China adopted a domestic Emission Control Area (DECA) regulation that requires ships to switch to a cleaner marine fuel to reduce air pollution in its ports and along its coasts. Shanghai and its neighboring provinces in the Yangtze River Delta (Zhejiang and Jiangsu) decided to accelerate the process by starting to enforce the DECA regulation on April 1, 2016, nine months ahead of the national schedule. If implemented and enforced effectively, this regulation could reduce sulfur oxides and fine particulate (PM2.5) emissions by about 80% and 60% respectively when all ships navigating in the DECA of the Yangtze River Delta switch to low-sulfur fuel. 

The DECA is the first regulation for controlling shipping emissions adopted in mainland China. Building capacity to effectively implement and enforce standards is critical to ensuring that the DECA is a success. In mid-April, the NRDC China ports team organized a series of workshops in Shanghai and Beijing in which experts shared experiences with municipal and national officials in China on marine fuel regulation enforcement. NRDC also co-hosted another workshop in Beijing to discuss how to leverage the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process to drive the adoption of clean port and shipping practices.  Here are key takeaways from these workshops:

Chinese officials are very enthusiastic to learn international best practices

Two marine fuel regulation enforcement training workshops were hosted by the Shanghai Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) and the Shanghai Transport Commission, as well as the Waterborne Transport Research Institute of the Ministry of Transport (MOT). NRDC invited two experts to join these enforcement workshops:

  • Alex Barber, from the California Air Resources Board’s Railroad and Marine Enforcement Section, who has over 10 years of experience inspecting ships to verify compliance with California’s marine fuel regulations;  
  • Professor Johan Mellqvist of the Optical remote sensing group at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, who is leading multiple remote ship emission measurement campaigns in Denmark, Sweden and Belgium to facilitate enforcement of the Emission Control Areas in Europe.

Over 80 officials from MOT and the national and local MSA, including many front-line enforcement staff, attended the two marine fuel regulation enforcement workshops. The two experts, along with NRDC’s team (including NRDC consultant Rich Kassel), introduced the marine fuel enforcement process in California, ship emissions remote measurement campaigns in Europe, and the latest developments in LNG technologies for use in the marine sector and LNG-related safety regulations. On the second day of the Shanghai workshop, Alex Barber was invited to join a group of officials in conducting a mock fuel inspection on an oil tanker berthed in the Port of Shanghai. Alex demonstrated first-hand how to check oil log books,bunker delivery notes, engine temperature and viscosity readings, fuel temperature, viscosity alarms, and more to assess whether a ship is complying with fuel sulfur switching requirements.

During the on-board mock inspection Alex Barber (front row, c.) and the MSA inspectors (front row, l.) listened to the Chief Engineer of the oil tanker (front row, r.) as he presented documents stating when the ship had shifted to low-sulfur fuel at berth Barbara Finamore, 2016

Following the training workshops, NRDC jointly co-hosted a workshop on EIAs for port development and upgrades with MOT’s Transport Planning and Research Institute. NRDC invited Nick Yost, one of the founding fathers of the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to introduce EIA processes in the U.S. and California in particular and compare EIA regulations between the U.S. and China. David Pettit and Renilde Becque from the NRDC China port team also presented how EIA processes have driven ports to mitigate health and air quality impacts resulting from port developments and upgrades in the U.S. and the Netherlands.

Workshop on port EIAs, co-hosted by the MOT’s Transport Planning and Research Institute Barbara Finamore, 2016

China is serious about enforcing the DECA regulation and NRDC’s work is making a difference

Shanghai MSA webpage featuring the fuel switching enforcement workshop and stating Shanghai MSA’s commitment to strictly enforce the DECA regulation.

The workshops were so well received that they were featured on the Shanghai MSA webpage. Moreover, on April 27th, a little over two weeks after the NRDC workshops in Shanghai, the Shanghai MSA caught the first vessel violating China’s ECA regulations. According to this report, (in Chinese), the MSA inspectors used the very same methods that they learned from Alex Barber during the NRDC training. The inspectors checked the oil logbook, which showed that the vessel had switched to low-sulfur fuel. However, that finding seemed suspicious when checked against the engine computer and alarm records. The inspectors conducted a detailed on-board inspection and took oil samples for testing, which revealed that the vessel had actually not switched to low-sulfur fuel at all when berthed at the Port of Shanghai.

China now has the laws, the regulations, the capacity, and the will to continue to be a champion in fighting air pollution from ships. As the country becomes more adept at enforcing existing regulations to control air pollution and create a level playing field for the industry, it can continue to grow its economy without sacrificing environmental quality.

About the Authors

Barbara Finamore

Senior Attorney and Asia Director, China program

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