EU agrees to significant sulphur reduction in shipping fuels

June 25, 2012

Efforts to tackle air pollution from shipping have been boosted by an agreement that is expected to reduce by 85% the sulphur content of fuel used by ships in EU waters by 2020.


The agreement signals an EU willingness to encourage cleaner shipping fuels more quickly than originally expected. T&E has welcomed the deal, but says it should be the start of a broader process to improve air pollution from ships, and enforcement measures must be tightened up.

Together with greenhouse gas emissions, tackling air pollution from ships has been an area of painfully slow progress in recent years. In 2008, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) set stricter limits for the sulphur content of marine fuels, and included the option of applying stricter standards in specially designated Sulphur Emissions Control Areas (Secas) – in such areas, the use of fuel with a 0.1% sulphur content will be obligatory from 2015. While the USA and Canada have chosen to declare their entire coastline (all waters within 370km of the North American coast) as a Seca with the 0.1% limit, the EU is still enforcing different standards in its three declared Secas – the Baltic Sea, North Sea and English Channel – and all other EU waters.

The EU agreement, which still has to be approved by environment ministers and MEPs, sets a sulphur limit of 0.5% by 2020 in all EU waters except Secas, where the 0.1% limit will apply from 2015. The current IMO limit for general waters is 3.5%, with an agreement to come down to 0.5% in either 2020 or 2025, depending on a review of the availability of cleaner fuels due to take place in 2018. If this EU agreement is approved, it will mean the 0.5% limit will come into effect in all EU waters on the earlier date, regardless what the 2018 review says.

T&E shipping officer Antoine Kedzierski said: ‘This agreement shows both good progress and how little progress has been made to date. Switching to 0.5% sulphur fuels is an 85% improvement on current EU sulphur levels, so this would be a significant step towards reducing the 50,000 premature deaths caused by shipping air pollution in Europe every year. But compared to the USA and Canada that have introduced a Seca along their entire coastline, the EU can still make more progress to further reduce harmful emissions from ships.’

T&E is also worried that lax enforcement of the rules could lead to them being less effective. The agreement allows for a penalty system for ships that don’t comply, but checks of fuel in ships are made very loosely, which has raised concern that failure to comply will not always be discovered.

Kedzierski added: ‘This is a good start, but the Commission will have to look at additional solutions to further reduce air pollution from ships. In particular, Member States should also be encouraged to further extend the emissions control areas to all European seas. In a long-term strategy to address shipping air pollution, action on other pollutants including NOx and paticulate matter will also be crucial. And we hope this move inspires the EU to take serious action on greenhouse gases from shipping.’

The agreement is likely to be approved by MEPs and ministers, because it was worked out by member states’ representatives, some MEPs and the Danish presidency.


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