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Rich Kassel’s Blog

In praise of the IMO's actions to reduce ship pollution

Rich Kassel

Posted April 23, 2010

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Today, a New York Times editorial praised the International Maritime Organization’s recent decision that large cruise ships will no longer be able to burn heavy fuel in Antarctic waters, as well as its March adoption of an Emission Control Area to reduce ship pollution within 200 miles of the U.S. and Canadian coasts (see here). 

As the Times noted, these heavy fuels increase air pollution and, if spilled, create serious risks to marine life.

The Times is right.  It always seemed wrong to me that large cruise ships would burn the dirtiest of fuels en route to visiting one of the world’s unique and fragile ecosystems.   As the editorial stated, “what’s the point of visiting the natural wonders of the nautical world if you leave a terrible stain behind when you leave?”

As for the Emission Control Area, this is an incredibly important step forward for public health.  By 2020, using cleaner fuels and emission controls in the ECA will eliminate 14,000 premature deaths and $110 billion in health costs annually.

The IMO’s work is not finished:  the organization is also considering a new code of conduct for shipping in the Arctic, as well as a proposal to reduce black carbon emissions from ships, which have been linked to accelerating Arctic ice melt.  These will be critically important debates for the organization, as it seeks to balance the desire of shippers to use increasingly-open northern waters and the obvious environmental need to tread very carefully in those waters.   

For many people who care about pollution from ships, or about the fragile environment of our polar regions, the IMO may be the most important organization that you've never heard of.   Their recent steps are evidence that the organization is moving in the right direction.

Another good news story for this Earth Day weekend. 


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