There is growing opposition among member states to the implementation of an international anti-pollution agreement to which the EU has already agreed. Environment ministers will discuss their concerns at a meeting on Monday (19 December).
All the EU’s member states are parties to an International Maritime Organisation (IMO) agreement to limit air-polluting sulphur from marine fuels, which sets a deadline of 2015 for imposing tighter limits in all ‘sulphur emissions control areas’ (SECAs). But Sweden and Finland now say the deadline is unrealistic, and puts their shipping at a disadvantage.
There are only two designated control areas in the EU – the Baltic Sea, and the North Sea and English Channel. Complying with the new rules – which will bring the limit for emissions down from 1.5% to just 0.1% – requires switching to no-sulphur fuel such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), or retro-fitting ships with fuel-cleaning technology known as scrubbers. Swedish ministers have publicly opposed the new limits. The shipping industry argues against the measure because, it says, no port in the Baltic Sea is equipped to supply liquefied natural gas, and it would take more than four years to provide such a supply.
There is also opposition on grounds of cost. They want the IMO to agree to delay implementation. Alfons Guinier, of the European Community Shipowners’ Association, said the new rules would be too expensive. He said: “Rates would have to increase sharply, which would result in a modal shift from transport by sea to transport by road.” He claims that the limit was adopted by the IMO “at the last minute without any impact assessment”.
The European Commission issued a proposal for implementation in July, but since then Sweden and Finland have raised concerns about the non-availability of LNG fuel and the start date. Other member states are concerned that the proposal goes further than IMO requirements, for instance by extending the limit to areas outside the SECAs in 2020. Denmark, which will take over discussions on the issue next month, supports the Commission proposal.
Satu Hassi, a Finnish Green MEP who is leading discussions on the subject in the European Parliament, has called for the EU to go even further than the Commission proposal. To avoid discriminating against shipping in the EU’s controlled areas, she is urging enforcement of the 0.1% limit in all EU territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles from the coast in 2015.
“Having a limit in emissions control areas is an important step, but the health of other citizens, like Italians and Greeks, is as important as our lives in the north,” Hassi said.
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She disputes industry claims that scrubbing technology is too expensive. “The industry says only 30% of ships can be retrofitted, while the producers say 80% can,” she said.
The Parliament’s environment committee will vote on the subject in January.