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Opinion
Julian Lee

Fighting Shipping Pollution Is Bad For the Planet

Cleaner marine fuels with less sulfur will cut premature deaths and morbidity, but reduce the ability of clouds to reflect heat.

Ships will have to burn cleaner fuels from January, or clean up exhaust emissions

Ships will have to burn cleaner fuels from January, or clean up exhaust emissions

Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg

The shipping industry is getting serious about cutting sulfur dioxide emissions. People who live along busy shipping lanes will see health benefits from reduced particulate emissions and a reduction in acid rain when new regulations come into force on Jan. 1. But the sulfur particles help offset some of the warming caused by powering the ships, so the rules may also increase the likelihood that rising sea levels caused by global warming leave those same populations without a home.

The new regulations from the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency responsible for ensuring safe and efficient shipping on clean oceans, allow for two ways of tackling the problem. Either ships must burn fuel with a sulfur content of no more than 0.5%, down from the 3.5% that is currently permitted outside of designated special emission-control areas. Or they must install scrubbers to remove sulfur from their exhaust.