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Posted at 1:52 PM ET, 12/ 3/2010

New energy efficiency standards for shipping

By Juliet Eilperin

Major shippers will join with retailers and the Carbon War Room group on Monday to announce that they will apply a universal energy efficiency index to their fleets.

The effort could translate into serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from global shipping by enabling shippers to measure and compare how dirty some marine vessels are.

The Carbon War Room, a group founded by British entrepreneur Richard Branson and several other business leaders, has been working over the past couple of years to develop responses to climate change from the private sector. Branson will be hosting a "World Climate Summit" in Cancun this week, during the weekend break for negotiators at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Sir Richard Branson, CEO for Virgin Groups, gestures during a debate at the Climate Summit for Mayors at the Copenhagen City Hall on December 16, 2009. (Anders Debel Hansen - Afp/getty Images)

The action will involve some of the world's biggest shipping companies, such as Maersk Line. Maersk recently announced it is now the first shipping line to receive independent verification of its CO2 emissions data, vessel by vessel. Lloyd's Register has conducted the verification, and Maersk said it will include the data as one of eight performance measures that it presents to customers -- such as Starbucks -- in a scorecard.

Jacob Sterling, Maersk's head of climate and environment, said if independent verification became an industry standard, "this will enable our customers to choose shipping lines based on their environmental performance."

The shipping industry's carbon footprint has come under scrutiny recently, in part because large ocean-going vessels use fuel that is much dirtier than the kinds used by cars and trucks. International negotiators have raised the idea of imposing a carbon tax on the international maritime industry ito help raise the billions of dollars the industrialized world has promised to give developing countries to cope with global warming.

These shipping emissions pose a significant public health risk, as well: According to a 2007 study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, exposure to shipping-related fine particle emissions accounted for 19,000 to 64,000 annual deaths stemming from heart and lung disease. That same study projected the death rate could rise 40 percent "due to trade-driven growth in shipping emissions."

"The deaths of tens of thousands of people could be avoided throughout the world each year if the shipping industry used cleaner diesel fuel, rather than the high-pollution residual or bunker fuels currently used," said S. William Becker, executive director National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

By Juliet Eilperin  | December 3, 2010; 1:52 PM ET
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