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Data InsightsSulfur dioxide emissions from shipping dropped sharply with the introduction of new rules in 2020
May 10, 2024Hannah Ritchie

Sulfur dioxide emissions from shipping dropped sharply with the introduction of new rules in 2020

Line chart showing global emissions of sulphur dioxide by sector.

The Community Emissions Data System (CEDS) produces invaluable long-term data on the emissions of air pollutants worldwide. It has just published its latest update, extending this data to 2022.

One of the most striking changes in air pollution trends has been the abrupt drop in sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from shipping. As you can see in the chart — where shipping is highlighted in red — there was a dramatic fall from over 10 million tonnes a year in 2019 to 3 million tonnes a year later.

The change resulted from the International Maritime Organization’s strict limits on marine fuels, introduced in 2020: the maximum percentage of sulfur allowed in these fuels fell from 3.5% to 0.5%. All ships worldwide had to comply.

This drop is positive for tackling local air pollution and acid rain. However, it also has implications for climate change since SO2 has masked some of the warming caused by greenhouse gases.

Explore all of the updated data