Global shipping: Linking policy and economics to biogeochemical cycling and air-sea interaction (ShipTRASE)

Type: Belmont Forum

Shipping is the most widely used medium for transport of goods internationally and, although it is a carbon-efficient transport medium, there is an increasing focus on its broader environmental consequences. Impact on the environment includes emissions from fuel combustion into the air and in the sea. These emissions influence coastal regions and the open ocean. Likewise, means to filter substances from ship exhaust, e.g. the use of scrubbers to reduce sulfur emissions, can have implications upon the marine environment. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is primarily responsible for the international regulation of vessel-based pollution. Based upon IMO framework standards, ship-building and operational standards are introduced and area-based instruments, such as emission control areas (ECAs), are established (e.g. Baltic Sea). Emission control results in use of alternative fuel, as well as the increasing use of scrubbers. Scrubber use is considered to be cheaper than using cleaner fuel, but the effects of scrubbers on seawater could potentially cause problems for marine ecosystems (Endres et al., 2018; Turner et al., 2017). Scrubber water contains compounds known to have environmental effects, for example polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAH). Laboratory studies show negative effects at low concentration that could be explained by synergistic effects (Koski et al., 2018). Potential alternatives, however, must be economically viable for shipping companies. Lack of regulations, vague monitoring and economic uncertainty cause problems for industry and society. The environmental, economic and legal aspects of ship emission reduction and control mechanisms will be analysed. The project will be divided into two parts: 1) the near-term perspective will focus on the near-future consequences of the ECAs, where it is likely that the use of scrubbers will increase, and 2) the long-term perspective, in which alternative fuel (e.g. LNG) will be introduced. Within the near-term perspective, the environmental impacts on the lower atmosphere and upper ocean include pollutant emission from ship smokestacks and liquid discharge (please see the attached Surface Ocean-Lower Atmosphere letter of support). The reduction of sulfur oxide emissions into the atmosphere using scrubber technology results in concentrated discharge to the surface water, potentially including particles and PAH. Legal and economic regulation includes different levels of norm- and mechanism-setting, as well as implementation and monitoring. We target a region heavily regulated vs. one not yet regulated. We will explore the impact on biogeochemical cycling and air-sea exchange in both types of regions, examine the influence of mediation techniques on both environmental and economic issues, assess the efficacy of the regulation (or lack thereof) on different levels, and evaluate governance instruments taking into account distributional impacts. Regarding long-term consequences, we will analyze how procedures and institutions should be established to provide for an effective and adaptive legal framework by comparing current international, regional and national practice in the field of environmental protection, as well as the economic mechanisms that are appropriate to encourage the use of alternative fuels. The climate impact of using alternative fuels will be assessed, for example as methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, using a variety of model scenarios and emission budget calculations from literature review. A second aim is to engage in research co-designed with industry and political partners.