If you think your New Year’s resolution to stop drinking what’s bad for you is impressive, try being one of the 60,000 oceangoing ships. As of January 1, all marine vessels must drastically cut how much sulfur they pump into the air. The new regulation marks one of the first truly global initiatives to clean up planet Earth, and it just might wreak a bit of havoc on the world’s economy along the way.
The rule, officially dubbed MARPOL Annex VI, regulation 14, comes from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations agency. Better known as IMO 2020 and agreed to by every nation that plays a serious role in global shipping, it dictates that ships either install pollution-control equipment or use fuel whose sulfur content is no more than 0.5 percent by weight, down from the current 3.5 percent limit.
“This global switch is unprecedented,” says Iain Mowat, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie who forecasts petroleum demand.