Europeans can breathe easier after MEPs vote for cleaner shipping fuel

Environmental groups have today welcomed a European Parliament vote which will help cut back air pollution by significantly decreasing the amount of dirty sulphur allowed in marine fuels. The Directive on Sulphur in Marine Fuels which was tentatively agreed upon before the summer break by the European Parliament negotiators, the Commission and the Council, has just been formally adopted by an overwhelming majority of MEPs.

The new law confirms that a global limit of 0.5% agreed in the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) will apply in all EU seas by 2020. This represents a whopping 85% cut compared with today’s 3.5% limit. Until this new agreement some uncertainty remained over the entry-into-force date of the IMO global standard in Europe. But the EU has now sent a clear signal that it wants cleaner fuels earlier rather than later while still leaving a very generous eight years for the industry to adapt.

It also confirmed an even stricter sulphur limit of 0.1% for 2015 which applies to so-called Sulphur Emissions Control Areas (SECAs) in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the English Channel.

Green groups welcomed the adoption of the new law as a very significant step towards the reduction of air pollution from shipping.

T&E shipping specialist Antoine Kedzierski said: “This is a very encouraging first step. Now the EU needs to follow the USA and Canada by making the entire EU coastline a low-SO2 and low-NOx-zone, and by beefing up its enforcement regime.”

In addition to being a danger to human health, sulphur emissions are a major driver behind environmental problems such as acid rain affecting soil and water and damage to biodiversity.

Louise Duprez, Policy Officer on air pollution at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said: “Today’s vote is good news for all EU citizens. Shipping air pollution causes 50,000 premature deaths in Europe every year [1] so this reduction will bring clear benefits to people’s health, quality of life and environment, as well as leading to important public health savings.”

Green NGOs are now stressing the need for the European Commission and Member States to address other types of pollutants from ships, such as CO2. Nitrogen oxides emissions from ships are also of great concern, say the NGOs, but there are still no EU standards or measures in place for controlling their release. They call upon the Commission to propose measures to address nitrogen oxides from both new and existing ships as soon as possible.

Other major sources of air pollution which should be addressed as a matter of urgency include agriculture, non-road mobile machinery, as well as domestic heating.

The European Commission has launched a wide review of its air policies. The review is expected to end next year with the adoption of legislative proposals aimed at reducing the adverse impacts of air pollution in Europe.

[1] CEEH (2011): Assessment of health-cost externalities of air pollution at the national level using the EVA model system). By J. Brandt et al. CEEH Scientific Report No 3. Centre for Energy, Environment and health:

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