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June, 2009:

Europe needs Emission Control Areas

Acid News – 2 June 09

Over the last twenty years, fuel and emission standards for land-based transport have been dramatically strengthened over most of the world. But international shipping has for a long time resisted similar legislation, both as regards emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. Eventually, in October last year, after some twenty years of talks but very little action, strict new limits for reducing sulphur emissions from ships were finally agreed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). But these important new standards are still many years away from practical implementation – the 0.5 per cent global sulphur limit will apply as from 2020 (or possibly 2025), and the 0.1 per cent sulphur limit for ships in designated Emission Control Areas (ECAs) will apply as from 2015. More importantly, the measures agreed so far in IMO for reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) are totally inadequate – the Tier 2 standards that will apply to new ship engines as from 2011 will only reduce NOx emissions by about 16–22 per cent, as compared to the current Tier 1 standards.

The slow turnover of the shipping fleet combined with the high growth in shipping activities mean that the Tier 2 standards are not likely to result in any real reductions in total ship emissions even within the next 15–20 years. Every effort must therefore be made to markedly strengthen the weak global NOx emission standards, both for existing and new ships. Last year’s IMO agreement also included a Tier 3 NOx emission standard, which will be introduced in 2016 and requires an 80 per cent NOx reduction from the present Tier 1 level. But the Tier 3 standards apply solely in specific designated NOx Emission Control Areas, and are limited to new ships only. In late March, the United States and Canada jointly submitted a proposal to the IMO to designate most of their coastal waters, an area extending 370 kilometres from the coastline, as an emissions control area (ECA) for the control of sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter emissions (see front page). All ships operating in the ECA will face stricter emission standards designed to reduce the threat they pose to human health and the environment. The ECA standards will cut sulphur in fuel by 98 per cent, particulate matter (PM) emissions by 85 per cent, and NOx emissions by 80 per cent as compared to the current global requirements. Clearly, the EU and its member states should follow the example of the United States and Canada and designate all sea areas around Europe (the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the North-East Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea) as “full” Emission Control Areas, i.e. covering all the major air pollutants (sulphur, PM and NOx). Currently only the Baltic Sea and the North Sea have ECA status, and this is limited to sulphur control.

To ensure an organized gradual phasein of low-sulphur fuel, to encourage the use of the best techniques, and to speed up the introduction of cleaner fuels and ships, IMO regulations need to be complemented by economic instruments, such as emission charges. These should be set so as to make it financially worthwhile – at least for ships that regularly frequent the areas where they apply – to use cleaner fuels or to invest in techniques needed to ensure a distinct reduction in emissions.

Christer Ågren