EU clamps down on shipping industry emissions

The European Commission is tightening its regulations surrounding the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the shipping sector with a new CO2 tracking law and a sulphur oxides cap.

The shipping industry – which accounts for 4% of the bloc’s emissions – will have to track its CO2 emissions for the first time from January 2018 under new EU regulations agreed yesterday (26 November).

The new rules will apply to ships using EU ports and weighing more than 5,000 tonnes, with several exceptions, including warships, fishing boats and ‘wooden ships of a primitive build’.

But the industry is also gearing up to comply with a more pressing deadline. By 1 January, 2015, shipping companies will have to be using fuel with no more than 0.1% sulphur in the English Channel, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The current limit for sulphur in marine fuel in those areas is 1%.

Shipping is the only means of transportation not included in current EU emission laws, but if the shipping industry were a country it would be the eighth-largest emitter in the world and emissions could double by 2020 without restrictive legislation.

CO2 Monitoring

The new reporting regulations aim to obtain information about the fuel consumption and energy efficiency of ships, and use that information to reduce emissions.

“The monitoring system will bring environmental and economic gains for the shipping sector by increasing transparency about emissions and creating an incentive for ship-owners to cut them,” said Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action, when the laws were proposed in June.

However, environmentalists have criticised the fact that the monitoring laws only cover CO2, ignoring other dangerous emissions – such as sulphur and nitrogen dioxide – which could account for 50,000 premature deaths a year in Europe.

Sotiris Raptis, clean shipping officer at lobby group Transport & Environment, said: “Today’s decision opens the door for accurate measurement and monitoring of fuel consumption in shipping, which are key to operational efficiency. So we welcome the agreement but cautiously await the details.”

Various legislative steps are still to be taken; but the agreement is expected to be signed into law by spring 2015.

Sulphur limits

The impending sulphur restrictions have left many companies scrambling to deal with what will be a literal overnight change, as ships try and use up their vast stores of non-compliant fuels.

The world’s largest shipping association – the Baltic and International Maritime Council (Bimco) – questions whether this switchover is realistic, for both European shipping fleets and fuel suppliers.

“Failing to meet the demand for compliant fuel will cause massive disruption in global trade if the rules are enforced,” Bimco said.

The association also expressed concern about the enforcement of the law, and the current expense of compliance.

“There will be a massive distortion of the competition between ship owners if lack of enforcement allows part of the shipping industry to trade non-compliant at much lower fuel costs.”

There are some signs of progress however, as 14 shipping companies today signed up to the Trident Alliance – a shipping industry initiative that aims to help compliance with sulphur regulations.

“It is reassuring to witness that so many companies want to make sure the new regulations are implemented in a way that ensures the intended environmental benefits as well as a level playing field,” said the Alliance chairman Roger Strevens.

Brad Allen

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