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Taking just those shipping emissions of carbon dioxide that are currently regarded as ‘European' – the voyages from and to EU ports – the sector would be placed eighth in a list of European countries ranked by emissions. Worldwide, shipping emissions have been growing at an astonishing rate as well, up 90% since 1990.
The EU has long been aware of this, and had promised for years to include ship emissions in EU law. It seems as though what has happened in the skies has affected what will happen in the waters, however. The EU introduced a regulation to reduce emissions from aviation, the other international transport sector. But on aviation, the EU was badly burnt by the ferocious international opposition to its proposals for cutting emissions. That has led the EU to weaken its aviation policy by two-thirds, and to a loss of all ambition relating to shipping.
So, even though the European Commission was, for many years, under an obligation to propose a shipping emissions-reduction measure, it announced in October 2012 that it would limit itself to merely monitoring shipping emissions.
The monitoring proposal that was finally released in July 2013 requires nothing more than business as usual from the sector. Essentially, shipping companies will be required to hand over their fuel receipts to work out the amount of fuel used. This makes us wonder whether this was simply a box-ticking exercise. Why propose new laws at all if they do not improve the situation?
The main missed benefit from the proposal is that it could have been used to streamline monitoring of emissions and air pollution in the shipping sector. From 2015 the shipping sector will gradually have to abandon the dirty residual fuels that it uses – in practice, the waste product of oil refineries. They will have to switch to fuels with much lower sulphur content in some coastal European waters, as the cost to human health from pollutant sulphur emissions is huge. However, the legislation is missing effective enforcement and it is clear that there will be massive non-compliance in 2015, unless something is done urgently.
This recent monitoring proposal could be the solution: monitor all ship emissions, such as sulphur oxides (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) – not just carbon dioxide.
The shipping industry complains constantly that it is ‘foundering' in regulations. Here is the perfect opportunity to ensure that there is one simple law as a basis for cutting air pollution from shipping. But will the European Parliament and EU member states seize this opportunity? Or will they cave in to lobbying from industry to kill yet another law that would protect human health, because it might have a tiny cost for the industry?
With the science clear that man-made emissions need to be cut to avert sea-level rises and temperature increases, decision-makers must ensure that shipping does not remain the last EU climate frontier.