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  • Can Europe breathe a little easier with lower-sulphur shipping fuels?

    A significant step towards reducing air pollution from ships has moved closer following a vote by MEPs earlier this month to reduce the amount of sulphur allowed in marine fuels. Environmental groups have welcomed the vote, but say it needs to be the first in a programme of action to reduce harmful emissions from ships.


    The vote by the European Parliament earlier this month adopts a directive that mainly confirms the standards proposed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). MEPs supported the idea that fuels used in ships in all EU waters from 2020 should have no more than 0.5% sulphur content. They also supported the introduction of a sulphur limit of 0.1% to apply from 2015 in the EU’s three Sulphur Emissions Control Areas: the Baltic Sea, North Sea and English Channel.

    There has been some uncertainty over the date on which the IMO global standard would become law in Europe. With this vote, the EU has now sent a clear signal that it wants cleaner fuels earlier rather than later while still leaving eight years for the industry to adapt. Given that current marine fuels can have up to 3.5% sulphur content, the early introduction of a 0.5% sulphur fuel represents an 85% improvement.

    T&E shipping specialist Antoine Kedzierski said: ‘This is an encouraging first step to clean up shipping air emissions. But we must stress that it’s only a first step – there are a lot of emissions problems in shipping that still have to be tackled quickly, notably greenhouse gases and nitrogen oxides. When it comes to air pollution, the EU should for instance follow the USA and Canada by making the entire EU coastline a low-SO2 and low-NOx zone, and by beefing up the enforcement regime.’

    While the IMO had made some progress on air pollution in the past decade, progress on cutting CO2 from shipping remains very slow. The EU has threatened to take action for Europe alone if the IMO does not make progress on a global initiative.