Those who will suffer most benefit least from global trade. The on-time implementation (in 2020) of a global low-sulphur fuel law for ships would prevent 200,000 premature deaths globally, a health study by a group of leading researchers from the United States and Finland reveals. Oil and gas industry association IPIECA and a group of shipping companies represented by BIMCO, are pushing hard to delay the measure for five years, The Guardian reveals. Later this month the International Marine Organisation (IMO) will decide whether to stick to the 2020 date, which was agreed by acclamation back in 2008 [1]. NGOs Seas at Risk and Transport & Environment (T&E), observers at the IMO, condemn any delay in the implementation of the sulphur cap for ship fuel, which would be unacceptable and unjustifiable.

This brand-new research follows two previous global health studies that also concluded that ship air pollution harms human health and cause deaths. Delaying this action for five years would contribute to 200,000 extra premature deaths due to the toxic fumes, mainly in coastal communities in the developing world that barely benefit from global trade. On-time implementation of cleaner ship fuel could avoid 134,650 premature deaths in Asia, 32,100 in Africa and 20,800 in Latin America.

Prof. James Corbett of University of Delaware, one of the leading authors of the study, said: “An IMO policy implemented on time in 2020 could reduce the health burden on coastal communities, particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The inverse is also true. A delay would ensure that health impacts from sulphur emissions will persist in coastal communities that are exposed, where shipping lanes are most intense and communities most densely populated.

Ship heavy fuel oil is the most harmful transport fuel in use today. Having sulphur content up to 3,500 times higher than the latest European diesel standards for vehicles. The shipping industry is by far the world’s biggest emitter of sulphur, For this reason,  the IMO unanimously adopted in 2008  a global sulphur cap  requiring all ships to use fuels with a maximum 0.5% sulphur content as from 1st January 2020.

The 2020 implementation date was, however, made dependent on the results of a study to determine whether sufficient low sulphur fuel would be available then. That study, commissioned by the IMO and published last August shows that under all scenarios and sensitivity options considered, there will be sufficient clean fuel available in 2020.

John Maggs, senior policy advisor at Seas At Risk said: “The world has waited far too long for ships to ditch dirty fuels. With hundreds of thousands of additional premature deaths predicted and the toll falling heaviest on the developing world, the human health implications of ship’s continuing to burn dirty fuels beyond 2020 are clear and utterly unacceptable. With cleaner fuels available in 2020 there is no excuse for further delay.

Bill Hemmings, shipping director at Transport & Environment, said: “Both the health study and clean fuel study make it clear that the 2020 data must be respected. The shipping and refinery industries have already had eight years to prepare and there are still three more years before final implementation in 2020. There are no more excuses for deadly inaction.”

Notes to Editors:

[1] The IMO will consider this study under document MEPC 70/INF.34; previously published studies include Mitigating the Health Impacts of Pollution from Oceangoing Shipping  and Mortality from Ship Emissions.