Victory at the IMO! ... and Next Steps

Victory at the IMO! … and Next Steps

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Friends of the Earth strongly welcomed the IMO’s formal adoption of revisions to MARPOL Annex VI last Thursday, which will bring about a substantial reduction in air pollution from ships.  Currently, the average sulfur content of ship fuel is 2.4 percent, with a maximum allowable limit of 4.5 percent.  Under the revisions approved last week, ocean-going ships will be required to use marine distillate fuel with no more than 0.5 percent sulfur content (5,000 parts per million) starting in 2020 or 2025 – depending on the results of a fuel availability study.  This fuel requirement signifies the phase-out of extremely polluting bunker fuel, which literally comes from the bottom of the oil barrel and is more than 1,500 times dirtier than the diesel fuel used in trucks and buses.

LondonEven more promising is the possibility of a North American emission control area (ECA) that would mean stricter control of ship air emissions.  Presently only two ECAs exist in the world, one in the Baltic Sea and one in the North Sea.  Within these geographical areas ships must use fuel with a sulfur content at or below 1.5 percent.  However, the new revisions to Annex VI will permit even further restrictions in ECAs: 1.0 percent in 2010 and 0.1 percent in 2015.  Fully implemented ECAs will be able to achieve massive air emissions reductions from ships on the order of 80 percent, 85 percent, and 95 percent for nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and sulfur oxides, respectively.  A North American ECA would considerably improve air quality in portside and coastal communities in the U.S., where thousands die prematurely each year from ship air pollution.  Friends of the Earth will be advocating for the U.S. and Canada to submit the most environmentally protective North American ECA proposal possible to IMO by spring 2009.

In addition, Friends of the Earth and the Friends of the Earth International delegation will answer London’s call once again at the July 2009 IMO meeting to press for significant greenhouse gas reduction measures for the shipping sector.