Cruise ships release more toxic sulfur gasses than all the cars in Europe

 Thursday, July 6, 2023

A June study from sustainable transport campaigner The European Federation for Transport and Environment found that 63 cruise ships owned by parent company Carnival Corporation emitted 43% more sulfur oxides, a group of harmful air pollutants, than all the 291 million cars in Europe in 2022.

The statistic, while jarring, is a significant decrease from a few years ago, when the organization found ships owned by Carnival Corporation that visited European ports in 2017 emitted 10 times more sulfur oxides than all of Europe’s cars.

The drop is largely thanks to a 2020 rule from the International Maritime Organization that lowered the sulfur content limit of ship fuel from 3.5% to 0.5%.

Though the IMO rule slashes the sulfur emissions of individual ships, it has done nothing to limit the increasing number of cruise ships in recent years.

Compared to 2019, cruise ships are also spending more time at European ports and consuming more fuel, per the report.

As a result, cruise ships overall emitted 9% more sulfur oxides in 2022 than in 2017, according to Transport & Environment.

Sulfur oxides released into the atmosphere can have adverse effects on human health and air quality, from exacerbating respiratory illnesses such as asthma to contributing to the formation of acid rain.

A 2016 study estimated that the IMO’s sulfur regulations would prevent 570,000 premature deaths worldwide from 2020 to 2025.

But there’s a catch. Sulfur particles in the atmosphere reflect the sun’s radiation back into space, causing a cooling effect.

For decades, humans’ emissions of sulfur and other aerosols have canceled out some of the warming from greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide.

As aerosol emissions fall due to new regulations, like the IMO’s shipping fuel rule, that could speed up global temperature rise in the short term, as Dr. Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, explained in a Twitter thread on Wednesday.

Cruise ships directly contribute to global warming too, though. Carbon dioxide emissions from cruise ships visiting European ports in 2022 were the equivalent of emissions from 50,000 flights between Paris and New York, according to the study nearly a 17% increase from 2019.

The cruise industry has a long history of environmental violations.

In 2017, Carnival-owned cruise line Princess was fined a record-breaking $40 million after pleading guilty to deliberately dumping oil-contaminated waste into the ocean (and then intentionally covering it up) — plus an additional $20 million fine for violating the terms of its probation.

Today, as more travellers factor environmental impact into their vacation plans, the industry has begun to invest in other energy sources such as liquefied natural gas and shore power, which allows ships to turn off their diesel engines and run on electricity while docked at port.

LNG use would reduce health-harming air pollution, according to the new report, but cruise ships that use it will likely leak the potent greenhouse gas methane.

A spokesperson for Carnival told Insider that the company is the only major cruise corporation with fewer greenhouse gas emissions today than in 2011, despite a forecasted capacity increase of 30%.

Carnival aims to reduce its carbon intensity by 40% by 2030 (compared to 2008 levels) and achieve carbon-neutral operations by 2050, the spokesperson said, adding that approximately 60% of the company’s global fleet is equipped with technology to plug into shore-side power.

« Back to Page


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *