Ships’ NOx thrown overboard in emissions monitoring plan

MEPs have voted to exclude nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of shipping emissions in the EU, despite the fact that NOx from shipping in Europe is expected to exceed all land-based sources by 2020. The vote came shortly after a decision by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to delay stricter NOx engine standards for new ships operating in any newly declared NOx emissions control areas (NECAs).

The European Parliament plenary meeting on April 16 accepted the Commission’s proposal to monitor carbon dioxide from shipping but rejected the Environment Committee’s advice to also include NOx. Air pollution from international shipping, of which SOx and NOx emissions are a big part, accounts for about 50,000 premature deaths per year in Europe. 
 
But the Environment Committee had already excluded sulphur reporting, a move which flies in the face of tough new low-sulphur fuel regulations that enter force in 2015 for all ships sailing in emission control areas. In addition, MEPs rejected the chance to monitor ship efficiency – that is, cargo weight carried and distance sailed.
 
Earlier last month, IMO members, heavily influenced by industry interests and with the support of some EU states, succumbed to pressure from Russia and others to delay the start date of new NOx emissions control areas, which require an 80% cut in NOx from new ships sailing in these specially designated zones.
 
The original 2016 application date will still apply to the existing North American emissions control area but effective dates for future NECAs will be agreed when they are established. This will delay the overall effect of the NOx regulations. Whether the move resolves Russia’s blocking of an application for a Baltic NECA remains to be seen.
 
T&E have called on EU governments to reverse the weakening of the MRV proposal by MEPs. ‘Europe’s failure to act on NOx after the IMO’s decision to delay NOx regulations is another serious setback for efforts to reduce the health and environmental impact of shipping. Europe just can’t turn a blind eye to harmful NOx emissions, a truly invisible killer causing cancer and lung disease,’ said T&E shipping programme manager Bill Hemmings.
 
‘Monitoring NOx, SOx and CO2 emissions all in one go is a clever and cost-effective way to measure the dreadful performance of ships sailing in our waters. But the Parliament’s decision is short sighted, and member states must now ensure that Europe includes these emissions if its monitoring proposal is to be worthwhile,’ Hemmings asserted.
 
Meanwhile, Ince and Co, an international law firm, has said that a recent European Court of Justice ruling gives backing to the 2015 SOx regulations – aimed at reducing the harmful sulphur content of marine fuel – after a challenge based on less stringent IMO standards. The court ruled on an appeal from the owner of a Panamanian flagged cruise ship which had been issued with an administrative penalty by the Italian authorities after the vessel was found to have bunker fuel with a sulphur content in excess of 1.5%.
 
Ince and Co said the ruling means that, when in EU ports, ships complying with IMO sulphur rules do not have a defence if EU port authorities decide to prosecute for not meeting EU regulations. Even if EU and IMO emissions regulations diverge further, the firm says it will be difficult to challenge EU sulphur regulations on the grounds that IMO regulations should take precedence.