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China's leaders have pledged to contain the air-choking pollution churned out by the booming economy's cars, factories and power plants. But much of the foul air generated by its heavily export-driven economy is coming from a widely overlooked and virtually unregulated source: The ships carrying those exports to market.
With some 30 percent of the world's container volume, China's ports are a major source of soot and sulfur dioxide—among the worst air pollutants generated by burning diesel fuels, according to a report published Wednesday by the Natural Defense Resources Council. Air pollution contributed to an estimated 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010. Tighter regulations and cleaner-burning diesel technology have been rolled out in the past few decades in most of the developed world. Ships traveling in international waters are regulated by the International Maritime Organization, which has put emission controls in America and Europe, where ships use low-sulfur marine fuels. But those regulations don't apply to Asia. China's booming economy has left the latest regime with a host of environmental problems, from fouled rivers to thick smog enveloping its largest cities. But with signs of the economy slowing, Beijing leaders are looking for ways to further stoke growth. That could put a damper on measures to raise costs for shippers.
-- John Schoen, CNBC