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  • IMO threatens a ‘shameful’ delay on NOx limits

    A central element of efforts to tackle pollution from ships has suddenly been threatened to be set back by five years. Last week, the environment committee of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) proposed to delay a measure limiting nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions in specifically designated sea areas, from 2016 to 2021. T&E described the delay, which took most observers by surprise, as ‘a disaster’ and ‘a shameful act by the IMO’ that punishes those who have invested in cleaner technology.

    In 2008 the IMO adopted a proposal to limit the damage caused by shipping emissions (known as MARPOL annex VI). The strictest limit values were to be enforced in highly populated coastal areas with heavy maritime traffic, the so-called special emissions-control areas. The agreement on sulphur emissions was introduced into EU law last year, and the provisions on NOx were subject to a review this year.

    The formal review process carried out by the IMO concluded that no delay was necessary to guarantee a proper implementation of the standards. But at last week’s meeting, Russia, who did not participate in the formal review group, called for the ‘Tier III’ standard for NOx to be delayed by five years. Contrary to the opinion of the 29 delegations who did participate, Russia claimed that imposing the standard for 2016 would cost ship operators prohibitive amounts of money; that the technology still had problems, and that it might increase carbon dioxide emissions. Due to the lack of EU coordination on the issue, a slender majority of countries (including Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Malta and Poland) followed Russia’s lead and recommended the five-year delay. This proposal is subject to a vote at the next session of the IMO Marine Environmental Protection Committee in March next year.

    T&E’s clean shipping officer Antoine Kedzierski said: ‘This is a shameful act by the IMO and nothing less than a disaster. Two years before the entry into force of the next emissions limit, the IMO threatens to punish those who have chosen to invest in clean innovation in order to comply, and rewards those who have cynically waited and lobbied for a postponement. This unexpected change of course will not only kill high-value jobs in the clean-tech industry, but will also increase emissions that have serious impacts on the environment and human health.’

    Air pollution from international shipping, of which NOx emissions are a big part, accounts for about 50 000 premature deaths per year in Europe. If the Tier III limits do not come into force until 2021, NOx emissions from shipping are likely to exceed the emissions of this air pollutant from land-based sources by 2020.

    Reacting to IMO’s U-turn, environmental organisations T&E and Seas at Risk, called on the EU to adopt unilateral NOx limits for cleaner air.