Shipping fuels: on course for better health and environment protection 

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Shipping fuels should be subject to stricter sulphur limits to protect public health and the environment, according to MEPs voting on draft legislation in committee this morning. Maritime emissions cause an estimated 50,000 premature deaths in the EU each year.

"Today's vote brings us a step closer to tougher EU rules on sulphur pollution from ships. Highly polluting shipping fuels have a serious impact on the environment but also on public health", said Satu Hassi (Greens/EFA, Finland) after her legislative report was adopted with 48 votes in favour, 15 against and 0 abstentions.

Air quality

Shipping emissions are a recognised hazard to the environment and public health, with respiratory diseases and acid rain among the negative impacts. Maritime sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are projected to overtake emissions from land-based sources by the end of this decade. The Commission estimates stricter sulphur limits would save €15-€32 billion thanks to improved health. 

New sulphur limits

The legislative update should go further than new sulphur standards agreed at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2008, recommends the Environment Committee. The current sulphur limit of 3.5%, in force in European seas since 1 January 2012, should be cut to 0.5% by 2015 and to 0.1% by 2020. Fuels used in coastal waters (within 12 nautical miles) should not exceed 0.1% sulphur by 2015.

Tougher rules already apply in the Baltic Sea, North Sea and the English Channel – the EU’s sulphur emission control areas (SECAs). Limits should be further tightened in line with international standards: from 1.5% to 0.1% by 2015. The Commission should assist with the groundwork towards designating new SECAs in the Mediterranean, North Atlantic and Black Sea, say MEPs.

To comply, shipping operators should use lower sulphur fuels or install technical ‘abatement’ equipment, such as scrubbers, which achieve equivalent results. Authorities should be allowed to detain and fine ships in breach of the rules.

The committee vote opens the possibility of negotiations with Council ahead of a plenary vote in Parliament (provisionally scheduled for 22-24 May).

In the Chair: Matthias Groote (S&D, DE)