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Global level of marine fuels pollution cut from 1 January

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Global level of marine fuels pollution cut from 1 January

Photo by Roberto Venturini

(BRUSSELS) - From 1 January 2020, the maximum sulphur content of fuels from ships' combustion engines is reduced to 0.5% (down from 3.5%) - reducing air pollution and protecting health and the environment.

Sulphur Oxide (SOx) emissions from ships' combustion engines cause acid rain and generate fine dust that can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as well as reduced life expectancy.

The global business of maritime transport required global solutions to reduce its emissions, said the EU's Transport Commissioner Adina Valean: "The entry into force of the global sulphur cap is an important milestone for the entire maritime sector; it will contribute to further reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants, directly benefiting cities and communities around the globe, including important ones on our Southern European shores."

Since 2012, the EU has taken action to reduce the sulphur content of marine fuels through the Sulphur Directive. In 2016, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) maintained 2020 as entry-into-force date of the global 0.5% sulphur cap.

Moreover, in some very fragile ecosystems such as the Baltic Sea and the North Sea – designated as 'Sulphur Oxides Emissions Control Areas' (SECAs) – the maximum sulphur content has been reduced to 0.10%, already in 2015. Such stricter sulphur limits have more than halved sulphur dioxide concentrations around SECAs, bringing health benefits to people in coastal regions and ports, while the overall economic impacts on the sector remained minimal.

Based on the successful implementation of the Emission Control Area (ECA) limits, the introduction of the global sulphur limit is expected to bring similar results.

Maritime transport has a direct impact on air quality in many European coastal 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.

Ships traditionally use fuel oils for propulsion, which can have a sulphur content of up to 3.50 %. For comparison, the sulphur content of fuels used in trucks or passenger cars must not exceed 0.001 %. The 2012 Sulphur Directive, revised in 2016, reduced SOx emissions by setting maximum sulphur content levels for marine fuels and incorporated new standards set by the International Maritime Organisation into EU law both inside regionally protected areas and outside of those.

Air emissions from shipping


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