IMO Takes a Step Back from NOx Emissions Controls

imo international maritime organization
Image (c) IMO

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has taken the controversial decision to consider delaying the implementation of tighter limits for nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from ships operating in emission control areas (ECA).

The 65th meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) this week was told by a correspondence group whether there was a need to delay the 2016 implementation date of the Tier III NOx standards contained in regulation 13 of MARPOL Annex VI.

According to the correspondence group, there is no need to delay as it considered the technologies needed to meet Tier III NOx standards are available.

In particular, the correspondence group stated that selective catalytic reduction (SCR) – which is to NOx emissions what scrubbers are to SOx emissions – is a sufficiently advanced market to be able to support the change.

Russia, however, submitted a paper to MEPC 65 disputing the correspondence group’s conclusion, and argued that SCR technology still had some shortcomings, and that the cost of the technology was significant.

The MEPC Chairman noted in his summary that the majority had agreed that Russia’s concerns were valid.

At the next session of the MEPC, the appropriate text that amends MARPOL Annex VI to reflect the delay in introducing the Tier III NOx standard in ECAs from 2016 to 2021 will be written up.

Environmental lobbyists have condemned the move, and Antoine Kedzierski, clean shipping officer at environmental NGO Transport and Environment, labelled the decision as “nothing less than a disaster.”

“Two years before the entry into force of the next emissions limit, the IMO punishes those who have chosen to invest in clean innovation in order to comply and rewards those who have cynically waited and lobbied for postponement,” he said.

“The call was led by Russia, but the lack of a common EU position is also to blame with Poland, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Latvia and Estonia all toeing the Russian line. This decision will not only kill high-value jobs in the clean-tech industry, but will also increase emissions that have serious impacts on the environment and human health.”

The issue is likely to be inflamed further due to a new study from researchers of the University of Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology, the University of Delaware and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies.

Carbon dioxide and other gases, such as the sulphur and nitrogen emitted by the shipping industry,   cause acidification by dissolving into the ocean and creating weak carbonic acid, sulphuric acid or nitric acid respectively.

Over time this can have a devastating impact on ecosystems. The study shows that acidification from shipping can during the summer equals that from carbon dioxide.

“Global shipping has emitted acidifying compounds for decades without emissions controls,” added James J. Corbett, professor of marine policy in the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. “Only recently have regulatory standards set limits on ship emissions.”

A 2009 EPA study revealed that annual total sulphur deposition due to international shipping ranges from 10 percent to more than 25 percent of total sulphur deposition along the entire Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Pacific coastal areas.

The IMO decision to delay regulation needs to be adopted by vote in the next Marine Environment Protection Committee, expected to be held in March 2014.