IMO succumbs to pressure to delay ship NOx regulations

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) today abandoned the fixed start date for new NOx emissions control areas (NECAs), which require an 80% cut in NOx from new ships sailing in specially designated zones. Instead, the IMO will replace the 2016 application date with flexible provisions for any NECAs established after that date. Transport & Environment (T&E) deplores this rushed-through decision, as it will negatively impact on the environment and the health of Europeans.

NOx from shipping in Europe is set to exceed all land-based sources combined by 2020. The law on NECAs was adopted unanimously by the IMO in 2008 and last year the organisation’s expert review found NOx control system technology was available and that the global regulation should proceed on schedule in 2016.

Yet today’s change – to allow the existing North American NECA affecting newly-built ships to go ahead at that time but to have subsequent NECA start dates decided separately – was adopted without any assessment of its impact. The rushed process also ignored MARPOL requirements that substantive amendments be circulated with a six-month notice period to allow for proper consideration.

T&E programme manager for shipping, Bill Hemmings, said: “The IMO’s decision to delay NOx regulations is a serious setback for efforts to tackle the biggest source of nitrogen oxides in Europe, which is an invisible killer causing cancer and lung disease.”

Discussion at the IMO meeting focused on the impact of the NOx regulation on industry while only minimal concern was given to the very real environmental and human health benefits that will be lost by the delayed implementation dates for new NECAs.

T&E regrets that today’s decision risks bringing the IMO’s credibility as a regulatory body into question. The last-minute proposal may prompt questions about any future IMO decisions where delayed implementation is intended to give industry sufficient margins to comply.

“It remains to be seen whether this decision will enhance the prospects for the establishment of NECAs in the Baltic and North seas. If such applications are not soon forthcoming, it may have the reverse effect of hastening the need for retrofitting of ships serving ports in Europe in order to curb growing emissions. We urge the Baltic and North Sea countries to submit their applications for new NOx emissions control areas as soon as possible,” Hemmings concluded.

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