Commission proposes to lower the sulphur content of shipping fuels for better air quality

The European Commission proposes to reduce the sulphur content of shipping fuels in order to lower sulphur dioxide emissions by up to 90%, and fine particle emissions by up to 80%. According to the Commission, the benefits for public health will be between €15 and 34 billion, far exceeding the expected costs, which are in the range of €2.6 to 11 billion.

The proposed legislation revises the Directive on the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels and incorporates new IMO standards into EU law. The Commission will carry out a review of the EU air strategy by 2013, and is taking urgent short-term measures to resolve persistent problems encountered by the Member States in complying with air quality standards, notably for the fine dust known as particulate matter (PM), and for ozone. This proposal to align the quality of marine fuels with the latest standards agreed by the International Maritime Organisation is one such immediate measure.

Among the changes proposed, the maximum permissible sulphur content of maritime fuels used in sensitive areas such as the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the English Channel will fall from the previous level of 1.5% to 0.1%, as of 1 January 2015. Other areas are to achieve an even bigger cut, from 4.5% down to 0.5% by 1 January 2020. In addition, ships will be allowed to use equivalent technologies such as exhaust gas cleaning systems as an alternative to using low sulphur fuels. Other important changes proposed include more unified reporting and verification, and sampling provisions aligned with international standards. While the new rules will pose challenges for the sectors concerned, the use of alternative abatement technologies will significantly reduce compliance costs and stimulate innovation and resource efficiency.

The proposal builds on stakeholder consultations and on various studies on the costs and benefits of the planned measures and their possible impact on the shipping industry.