Air polluting sulphur oxides (SOx) have substantially fallen over the past years, bringing health benefits to people in coastal regions and ports. This is the result of joint efforts by Member States and the maritime industry in implementing new EU new rules on cleaner shipping fuels.
The first Commission report on compliance with the Sulphur Directive shows high compliance by ships, in particular with the stricter limits in the North and Baltic Seas. This has more than halved sulphur dioxide (SO2) concentrations around ‘Sulphur Oxides Emission Control Areas’ since 2015 while the overall economic impacts on the sector remained minimal.
Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs said: “Environmental rules deliver and protect our citizens’ quality of life when all sides involved work together to correctly apply them. The shared commitment by Member States, industry, and the maritime community as a whole is paying off. People living around protected sea areas can breathe cleaner and healthier air. And we have preserved the level playing field for industry."
Maritime shipping has a direct impact on air quality in many European cities. Exhaust gases from ships are a significant source of air pollution, including through sulphur oxide emissions resulting from the burning of fuel oil. Sulphur oxides are harmful to the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult.
In 2012, the EU adopted rules (Sulphur Directive) to reduce the maximum sulphur content of marine fuels from 3.50% to 0.50% by January 2020. In some very fragile ecosystems such as the Baltic Sea and the North Sea – designated as ‘Sulphur Oxides Emissions Control Areas’ – the maximum sulphur content had to be reduced from 1% to 0.10%, already in 2015.
The report lists core reasons behind the successful and cost-effective implementation of the EU Sulphur Directive:
- EU support mechanisms and technical assistance: The Commission has worked extensively with the EU Member States and the maritime community in the European Sustainable Shipping Forum (ESSF), fostering dialogue and peer to peer exchanges on environmental sustainability challenges confronting the EU maritime transport. The European Maritime Safety Agency provided sound technical assistance to Member States.
- Combination of voluntary and mandatory tools. For example, a new and voluntary electronic enforcement system, Thetis-EU, allows for almost real-time monitoring of the compliance record of individual ships in all Member States. By the end of March 2018, around 30.000 sulphur inspection results had been registered. This allowed assessing an overall compliance of over 93% of the inspected ships in the SOx-ECAs.
- EU financial support for the uptake of clean ship technologies. The Commission actively supports cleaner maritime transport through a number of financial instruments aimed at research, development and deployment projects of innovative technologies or clean fuels (e.g. The 'Horizon 2020' programme, the Connecting Europe Facility and Green Shipping Guarantee programme).
- Synergies with the International Maritime Organisation: the EU smart and technology-based sulphur compliance and enforcement strategy was recognized as global best practice by the International Maritime Organization and is steering developments at global level to further reduce impacts form shipping emissions.
- Commission report on compliance with the Sulphur Directive
- Sulphur directive
- Thetis-EU Voluntary electronic enforcement system
- Air quality in Europe - 2017 report
16 April 2018