July 24 (UPI) -- China's decision to regulate maritime fuels could have a significant impact on international efforts to lower emissions from shipping, analysis finds.
Following its so-called Blue Sky initiative, the Chinese Ministry of Transport announced extensions to emission control areas along the coastline. Yujiao Lei, a regional consultant for Wood Mackenzie, said in an emailed report the latest steps are indicative of China's commitment to a greener economy.
"China is crucial to the world's shipping market for commodities and containers," she said. "In addition to international vessels calling at Chinese ports, there is also a large domestic flow of goods from the east of the country to its interior provinces through inland waterways. As such, the new regulations could be significant."
The 173-member International Maritime Organization in April agreed to cut emissions from its industry by 50 percent from 2008 levels by 2050. So-called levels of ambition outlined by the U.N. body said the industry agreed to work on efforts to phase out greenhouse gas emissions entirely "as soon as possible in this century."
The agreement was an initial step and member states were called on to finalize ways to meet the 50 percent benchmark within the next six years.
Starting in 2019, China starts imposing limits on sulfur emissions on par with its European counterparts.
"China's stricter policies for marine fuel specifications will undoubtedly play an important part in meeting the IMO global sulfur cap," Wood Mackenzie's analyst said.
New policies may have a limited impact in that fuel consumption in Chinese control zones are minimal so the extension won't have much of an influence on bunker demand.
Bunkering is the ship-to-ship transfer of fuel. Shippers have started moving toward liquefied natural gas as an option for bunkering in order to cut emissions.
French supermajor Total in February made a deeper commitment LNG by chartering a refueling vessel for Europe-to-Asia trade routes with Japan's Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, or MOL. The vessel, the first designed for large-scale bunkering operations, will be built at a Chinese shipyard and service cargo vessels in northern European waters.
China's so-called Blue Sky initiative calls for the eventual retirement of smaller coal-fired power plants. An air monitoring report from the Chinese government showed particulate matter, which contributes to climate change and adverse health, is on the decline. The report attributed the change in part to an 8.1 percent decline in the use of coal and the 6.3 percent increase in clean energy consumption over the last five years.