Importing Solutions: China’s Fight to Cut Air Pollution from Shipping and Ports

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China recognizes that the fight against climate change and air pollution has many fronts, and shipping ports is one of them. While shipping and ports facilitate trade, they also churn out powerful greenhouse gas emissions and harmful air pollution that causes respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and cancer. China handles more than 60 percent of the world’s waterborne trade and nearly one third of the world’s container shipment every year. In fact, it is home to 14 of the world’s 20 busiest ports. Due to high engine power and the use of dirty fuels, a single container ship in China’s seas could produce as much diesel emissions as half a million trucks in a single day.

Since 2013, NRDC has supported policies to clean up Chinese ports and shipping. Drawing on our experience slashing port pollution in the United States and Europe, we connect Chinese officials and leading researchers with the world’s leading experts on clean shipping and green ports. We also track and promote the latest enforcement mechanisms for shipping-related regulations.

We’ve had a number of successes. For example, ships were allowed to use residual fuel—one of the dirtiest in the world—except in a few areas in North America and Northern Europe where stricter regulations are in effect. But in 2015, China amended its laws to clear the way for government to tackle shipping emissions. Shortly after, China adopted a regulation that phases in a ban of residual fuel at and near ports that has the potential to reduce sulfur oxide emissions and fine particulate emissions from ships by about 80 percent and 60 percent, respectively. Since January 2017, this regulation has been enacted in eleven core ports and will be extended to all of China’s three main port regions by 2018.

NRDC now works with China to ensure full and timely implementation of the regulation, without catering to industry by delaying or weakening. We will continue to work with our partners to tighten existing requirements, and promote the adoption of model green port programs that encourage the industry exceed compliance. Overall, we are fostering a culture of compliance to build a clean prosperous port and shipping sector.

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