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‘Termination shock’: cut in ship pollution sparked global heating spurt

Sudden cut in pollution in 2020 meant less shade from sun and was ‘substantial’ factor in record surface temperatures in 2023, study finds

Regulations at the start of 2020 slashed the sulphur content of fuels used in shipping by more than 80%. Photograph: Shaun Cunningham/Alamy

The slashing of pollution from shipping in 2020 led to a big “termination shock” that is estimated have pushed the rate of global heating to double the long-term average, according to research.

Until 2020, global shipping used dirty, high-sulphur fuels that produced air pollution. The pollution particles blocked sunlight and helped form more clouds, thereby curbing global heating. But new regulations at the start of 2020 slashed the sulphur content of fuels by more than 80%.

The new analysis calculates that the subsequent drop in pollution particles has significantly increased the amount of heat being trapped at the Earth’s surface that drives the climate crisis. The researchers said the sharp ending of decades of shipping pollution was an inadvertent geoengineering experiment, revealing new information about its effectiveness and risks. [continue]