27 November 2002

On 21 November 2002, the European Commission adopted a new strategy to reduce emissions from seagoing ships. The main aim of the strategy is to reduce the impact of ship emissions on local air quality and acidification through the reduction of the sulfur contents of marine fuels used in the European Union (EU).

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Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: “The Commission’s new strategy to reduce ship emissions gives the maritime industry a timely opportunity to improve its green credentials. The new, stricter limits for sulfur in marine fuels that we are proposing to establish will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions in the EU by over 500,000 tons every year. These reductions will be targeted to deliver the greatest possible benefits—in ports and coastal areas close to where people live, and in acid-sensitive ecosystems in northern Europe.”

The Commission’s first priority is to reduce ship emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM) from ships, which are directly related to the sulfur content of marine fuels. Marine fuel in the EU has an average sulfur content of 2.7%, or 27,000 ppm, compared with diesel for cars and trucks, which must not exceed 350 ppm. The Commission presented a proposal for a directive to reduce the sulfur content of marine fuels (COM 2002 0595 (01)), the main provisions of which are:

  • A 1.5% sulfur limit for marine fuels used by all seagoing vessels in the North Sea, English Channel and Baltic Sea, in line with the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) MARPOL Annex VI sulfur limits.
  • The same 1.5% sulfur limit for marine fuels used by passenger vessels on regular services to or from any port within the EU, in order to improve air quality around ports and coasts, and create sufficient demand to ensure an EU-wide supply of low sulfur fuel.
  • A 0.2% sulfur limit on fuel used by ships while they are at berth in ports inside the EU, to reduce local emissions of SO2 and PM.

These measures will have significant human health benefits reducing the incidence of asthma, bronchitis and heart failure, particularly in populated port areas. The measures will also help reduce exceedances of critical loads for acidification, which remain a serious problem in lake and forest ecosystems in northern Europe.

In addition to the sulfur proposal, the strategy sets out a number of other actions including a push for tougher global emissions standards at the IMO, the development of new market-based measures to reduce ship emissions beyond regulatory standards, and the creation of a new Clean Marine Award scheme to promote low-emission shipping in the EU.

Source: European Commission