Success of HK emissions control zone will depend on China
Regulating a switch to clean fuel for shipping in Hong Kong waters without a collective regional effort will put the port at even more of a disadvantage.
By early next year, all ocean-going vessels calling at Hong Kong could be forced to switch to a low sulphur fuel while in port as the territory imposes an emissions control zone.
All the city is waiting for is for Beijing to file an application with the International Maritime Organisation to create the regional zone.
The campaign to get shipping companies to switch to less polluting fuel is being led by the Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association and the Hong Kong Liner Shipping Association. Known as the Fair Winds Charter, the campaign managed to sign up 17 lines and they recently agreed to extend their pledge to voluntarily use cleaner fuel for another year.
By December 2014 the shipping associations expect fuel switching to become mandatory through legislation in Hong Kong. It’s success, however, depends on China’s participation.
It’s not like China is being asked to reinvent the wheel. The whole of North America is a low sulphur emissions control zone as far as shipping is concerned. Other such zones are in the Baltic, the North Sea and the Caribbean.
But getting Beijing on board is key. There must be a collective effort at all ports in the Pearl River Delta. Shipping lines estimate it costs around US$1 million a year to use low sulphur fuel in Hong Kong and if carriers are not required to do the same in other regional ports, Hong Kong could find itself losing business to Shenzhen ever faster than it already is.
At stake is a lot more than money, however. When people suck in air pollution in Hong Kong, significant lungfuls are from vessels in local waters. According to the Environmental Protection Department, in 2011 ocean-going vessels were the largest source of emissions of the dangerous respirable suspended particulates and sulphur dioxide. The switch to lower sulphur fuel, combined with legislation requiring local marine vessels to use cleaner diesel, could cut sulphur dioxide emissions by 20 percent, according to under-secretary for the environment Christine Loh.
It is perhaps fortunate that Loh is on the case. She comes with a solid environment-protecting pedigree and is not your typical Hong Kong civil servant more interested in maintaining the status quo and collecting an air conditioning allowance than driving any meaningful change.
Loh said her department presented the potential benefits of reducing marine emissions to China's Ministry of Transport and she believes they are taking the issue seriously. With the chronic air pollution making life a misery in Beijing, you would hope so.