3.6.4. Sulfur Dioxide
Two major sets of driving forces influence future SO2 emissions:
- Level and structure of energy supply and end-use, and (to a lesser extent)
levels of industrial output and process mix.
- The degree of SO2-control policy intervention assumed (i.e., level of environmental
policies implemented to limit SO2 emissions).
Grübler (1998c) reviewed the literature and empirical evidence, and showed
that both clusters of driving forces are linked to the level of economic development.
With increasing affluence, energy use per capita rises and its structure changes
away from traditional solid fuels (coal, lignite, peat, fuelwood) toward cleaner
fuels (gas or electricity) at the point of end-use. This structural shift combined
with the greater emphasis on urban air quality that accompanies rising incomes
results in a roughly inverted U (IU) pattern of SO2 emissions and/or concentrations.
Emissions rise initially (with growing per capita energy use), pass through
a maximum, and decline at higher income levels due to structural change in the
end-use fuel mix and also control measures for large point sources. This pattern
emerges also from the literature on environmental Kuznets curves (e.g., World
Bank, 1992; IIASA-WEC, 1995) and is corroborated by both longitudinal and cross-sectional
empirical data reviewed in detail in Grübler (1998c). Historically, the decline
in sulfur pollution levels was achieved simply by dispersion of pollutants (tall
stacks policy). Subsequently, the actual emissions also started to decline,
as a result of both structural change (substitution of solids by gas and electricity
as end-use fuels) and sulfur reduction measures (oil product desulfurization
and scrubbing of large point sources).
Emissions for 1990 reported in the scenarios reviewed in Chapter
2 and in Grübler (1998c) indicate a range from 55 to 91 MtS. The upper range
is explained largely by a lack of complete coverage of SO2 emission sources
in long-term scenario studies and models. Lower values correspond to studies
that include only the dominant energy sector emissions (range of 59.7 to 65.4
MtS), and higher estimates also include other sources, most notably metallurgical
and from biomass burning. None of the long-term scenario studies appears to
include SO2 emissions from international bunker (shipping) fuels, estimated
at 3 ± 1 MtS in 1990 (Olivier et al., 1996; Corbett et al., 1999;
Smith et al., 2000). Historical global sulfur emissions estimates are
given in Dignon and Hameed (1989).
Grübler (1998c) also argues that SO2 control and intervention policies in many
rapidly industrializing countries (particularly those with high population densities)
are highly likely to be phased in more quickly than the historical experience
of Europe, North America, Japan, or Korea. This analysis is supported by existing
policies and trends in Brazil, China, and India (Shukla et al., 1999;
Rosa and Schechtman, 1996; Qian and Zhang, 1998). Most recent SO2 emission inventory
data suggest that since 1990 SO2 emission growth has significantly slowed in
East Asia compared to earlier forecasts, in response to the first SO2 control
measures implemented in China, South Korea and Thailand (Streets and Waldhoff,
2000). Dadi et al. (1998) estimate that in 1995 about 11% (1.5 MtS of
a total of 13.5 MtS gross emissions) of China's SO2 emissions were removed through
various control measures.
The evaluation of the IS92 scenarios (Alcamo et al., 1995) concluded
that the projected SO2 emissions in the IS92 scenarios do not reflect recent
changes in sulfur-related environmental legislation, in particular the amendments
to the Clean Air Act in the USA, and the Second European Sulfur Protocol. Increasingly,
many developing countries are adopting sulfur control legislation that ranges
from reduction of sulfur contents in oil products (e.g. China, Thailand, and
India; see Streets et al., 2000), through a maximum sulfur content in
coal (e.g. in China; see Streets and Waldhoff, 2000), to SO2 controls at coal-fired
power plants (e.g. China, South Korea, Thailand; for a review see IEA, 1999).
For instance, an estimated 3575 MW of coal-fired electricity China is generated
by plants already equipped with sulfur control devices (IEA, 1999).
Figure 3-17: Current sulfur
deposition in Europe (a) and projections for a high growth, coal-intensive
scenario similar to IS92a for Asia in 2020 (b), in gS/m 2
. Source: Grübler, 1998c, based on Amann et al., 1995.
Since publication of the IS92 scenarios a number of important new sulfur impact
studies have become available, and analyzed in particular:
- Implications of acidic deposition levels of high SO2 emissions scenarios
such as IS92a (Amann et al., 1995; Posch et al., 1996).
- Aggregate ecosystems impacts, especially whether critical loads for acidification
are exceeded given deposition levels and different buffering capacities of
soils (Amann et al., 1995; Posch et al., 1996).
- Direct vegetation damage, particularly on food crops (Fischer and Rosenzweig,
These studies provide further information on the impacts of high concentrations
and deposition of SO2 emissions, beyond the well-documented impacts on human
health, ecosystems productivity, and material damages (for reviews see Crutzen
and Graedel, 1986; WHO and UNEP, 1993; WMO, 1997). These studies are particularly
important because they document environmental changes of high-emission scenarios
by using detailed representations of the numerous non-linear dose-response relationships
between emissions, atmospheric concentrations, deposition, ecosystems sensitivity
thresholds, and impacts. All recent studies agree that unabated high SO2 emissions
along the lines of IS92a or even above would yield high impacts not only for
natural ecosystems and forests, but also for economically important food crops
and human health, especially in Asia where emissions growth is projected to
be particularly high.
A representative result (based on Amann et al., 1995) is shown in Figure
3-17, which contrasts 1990 European sulfur deposition levels with those
of Asia by 2050 in a high SO2 emission scenario (very close to IS92a). Typically,
in such scenarios, SO2 emissions in Asia alone could surpass current global
levels as early as 2020 (Amann et al., 1995; Posch et al., 1996).
Sulfur deposition above 5 g/m2 per year occurred in Europe in 1990
in the area of the borders of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany (the former
GDR), often referred to as the "black triangle." In view of its ecological impacts
it was officially designated by UNEP as an "ecological disaster zone." In a
scenario such as IS92a (or even higher emissions), similar high sulfur deposition
would occur by around 2020 over more than half of Eastern China, large parts
of southern Korea, and some smaller parts of Thailand and southern Japan.
Fischer and Rosenzweig (1996) assessed the combined impacts of climate change
and acidification of agricultural crops in Asia for such a scenario. Their overall
conclusion was that the projected likely regional climate change would largely
benefit agricultural output in China, whereas it would lower agricultural productivity
on the Indian subcontinent (the combined effect of projected temperature and
precipitation changes would have differential impacts across various crops and
subregions). However, projected high levels of acidic deposition in China would
reduce agricultural output to an extent that would more than offset any possible
beneficial impacts of regional climate change. This is primarily because sulfur
(and nitrogen) deposition, while acting as fertilizer for plant growth at lower
deposition levels, negatively affects plant growth at higher deposition levels.
Projections in a scenario such as IS92a are that the threshold levels will be
surpassed between 2020 and 2050 for all major Asian food crops.