BEIJING (AP) — China's busy ports fail to regulate heavy emissions of sulfur oxide and other pollutants mostly from cargo ships although they're the biggest source of air pollution in port cities such as Hong Kong, according to a new report.
The U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council found that maritime activity accounts for half of all sulfur oxide emitted in Hong Kong and about a third of all nitrogen oxide. Similarly, such activity makes up about two-thirds of sulfur oxide emitted in the neighboring port of Shenzhen.
Despite their environmental toll, only a few Chinese cities such as Hong Kong and Shenzhen have moved to reduce port emissions, mainly through financial incentives, while the national government is not enforcing emission standards. Seven of the world's 10 busiest container ports are in China.
Chinese officials have pledged to crack down on pollution plaguing many of the country's cities, but so far have not looked closely at port emissions, said Barbara Finamore, the council's Asia director.
"It's not just China," Finamore said. "There are many ports around the world that haven't taken action on this because they're just starting to understanding the pollution from ships."
Hong Kong, however, is contemplating imposing tougher controls that would require oceangoing ships switch to cleaner fuels while berthed in the city's port.
Oceangoing ships are allowed to burn fuel with sulfur levels 100 to 3,500 times higher than permitted in diesel-powered road vehicles, said the report, which was released Tuesday. As a result, a single container ship plying the coast of China emits as much diesel pollution as a half-million new Chinese trucks.
The cleaner fuels, however, can cost 48 percent more than dirtier, so-called bunker fuels, the report found. Switching fuels could also require additional training for ship crews.
All ports in North America and parts of northern Europe already require ships switch to cleaner fuels near and at port, while Californian authorities mandate ships switch fuels within 24 nautical miles (44.5 kilometers) of the state's shoreline.
"China has not yet done the full emission inventories to figure out how much port emissions are contributing to overall air pollution or the influence on human health," Finamore said. She recommended the first step would be to include the issue in the central government's next national planning document.