Shipping air pollution costs €60 billion per year

Photo: by-sa

Total health-related costs in Europe caused by air pollutant emissions from international shipping are expected to increase from €58 billion to €64 billion between 2000 and 2020.

The total health-related costs of air pollution in Europe are calculated to have been more than €800 billion per year at the pollution levels of year 2000. This figure is estimated to decrease to €537 billion in 2020, provided that EU countries reduce their emissions from land-based sources in line with what is needed to achieve the environmental targets of the EU’s 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, and provided that the sulphur emission standards for international shipping are complied with.

Air pollution is estimated to have been responsible for around 680,000 premature deaths in the whole of Europe in the year 2000, a figure that is expected to come down to approximately 450,000 in 2020.

Comparing the health impacts from shipping with those from land-based sources shows that in the year 2000 emissions from international shipping were responsible for an estimated seven per cent of the total health damage from air pollution in Europe, and that its share will increase to twelve per cent by 2020.

The number of annual premature deaths in Europe linked to air pollution from international shipping is estimated to increase from 49,500 to 53,400 between 2000 and 2020.

These figures come from a Danish study1 using the EVA (Economic Value of Air pollution) computer model. The research project aims to map the true costs of damage caused by air pollutant emissions from various sectors. Different scenarios assessing the human health impacts and associated external costs from different emission sectors have been investigated for the years 2000, 2007, 2011 and 2020 (see Table).

Table: Estimated total number of annual premature deaths in Europe caused by different emission sources

  2000 2007 2011 2020
All sources    681,100 575,500 572,600 450,000
International shipping   49,500 48,300 46,000 53,400
Int. shipping in the North Sea and Baltic Sea  20,400 16,200 14,100 13,200

Air pollutant emissions from ships operating in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea were responsible for annual health damage in Europe valued at €22 billion at the emission levels of year 2000. By 2020, this figure is expected to come down to €14.1 billion, as a result of implementation of the stricter ship fuel sulphur standards agreed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2008 (see Box).

International ship emission regulations

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), under ANNEX VI of MARPOL 73/78 (the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships), has adopted controls on sulphur in marine fuels.

The global fuel sulphur limit is currently 3.50% and will be lowered to 0.50% by 2020 (or possibly 2025, subject to a review in 2018). In specially designated sulphur emission control areas (SECAs), the current limit is set at 1.00% sulphur. It will be tightened to 0.10% by 2015.

Through the revision of the EU’s sulphur-in-fuels directive (2012/33/EU), which was finalised last year, these sulphur standards are part of binding EU legislation.

In Europe there are currently only two existing SECAs: the Baltic Sea and the North Sea (including the English Channel). Most of the coastal waters – within 200 nautical miles of the coast – of the USA and Canada have been designated as “combined” ECAs for both SO2 and NOx.

It should be noted that exhaust gas cleaning systems (e.g. scrubbers) that achieve equivalent sulphur emission reductions may be used as an alternative to low-sulphur fuels to fulfil the sulphur requirements.

However, since these stricter fuel standards apply only in designated Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECA), and the Baltic Sea and the North Sea so far are the only such areas in Europe, and ship traffic overall is expected to continue to increase, the total health-related costs in Europe of international ship traffic are expected to increase from €58.4 billion in the year 2000 to €64.1 billion in 2020.

In the intermediate years (2007 and 2011), smaller decreases in the health damage from ship pollution occurred as a result of stricter sulphur standards in the SECA area. The subsequent increase up to 2020 results from an overall projected increase in ship traffic worldwide.

It is noted by the authors that a similar study performed by the US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that by 2020 air pollution from shipping would still cause 21,000 annual premature deaths within the USA, with related health costs amounting to USD47–110 billion.

Specifically for Denmark, it is estimated that the total annual health-related air pollution damage amounted to €4.5 billion in year 2000. By 2020, this figure is expected to come down to €2.5 billion.

Air pollutant emissions from international shipping in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea are responsible for health damage in Denmark valued at more than €620 million per year (year 2000), decreasing to €360 million in 2020. The authors conclude that the SECA regulation that limits the sulphur content in ship fuel to a maximum of 0.1 per cent as from 2015, is expected to significantly reduce the external costs, and that “a similar regulation of international ship traffic in the whole world would have a significant positive effect on human health.”

It is however noted that the health impacts from ship emissions in the SECAs will remain significant after 2015. The reason being that the emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from ship traffic are not regulated by the SECA standard, and in the scenario used, NOx emissions from international shipping are therefore expected to continue to increase more or less in line with the projected increase in shipping activities.

Christer Ågren

1 Assessment of past, present and future health-cost externalities of air pollution in Europe and the contribution from international ship traffic using the EVA model system (March 2013). By J. Brandt et al. Published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion 13, 6 March 2013.



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