Today’s decision by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to cap the sulphur content of marine fuels sold worldwide at 0.5% by 2020 has been applauded by environmental groups Transport & Environment and Seas At Risk, which are members of the Clean Shipping Coalition. This will reduce SO2 emissions – which cause premature deaths from diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease – from shipping by 85% compared with today’s levels.

After two years of preparatory work and negotiations, the Commission presented its proposal for a revised Decision on criteria and methodologies for determining good environmental status of European seas. While the legislation is now clearer and promotes stronger regional cooperation, some important safeguards are still missing to ensure an adequate level of protection of our seas and ocean. The legislation not only lacks an independent process to decide when Good Environmental Status is achieved but also has some inconsistencies with other European environmental policies. Seas At Risk, together with other NGOs, urged the Commission to address these issues.

Seas at Risk urges Member States to designate more marine protected areas under the Natura 2000 network and calls on the European Commission to take legal steps against those Member States that fail to do so.

Seas At Risk, together with the Marine Conservation Society and ClientEarth, is empowering its members with a series of legal tips to encourage Member States to ensure effective management measures are put in place in marine protected areas.

The final conference of the MIDAS project, the EU’s flagship research project on the impacts of deep sea mining, showed that the scientific basis needed to underpin policies is far from mature. Huge uncertainties and unknowns about the deep sea ecosystems remain. In the meantime, the industry is gearing up its technology – the prospect being that exploration could start within four years’ time. The International Seabed Authority is rushing to get regulation in place.

The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to climate change and to the environmental impacts of shipping.

The Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the global average with emissions of black carbon (sometimes known as soot) making a significant contribution. Ice normally reflects solar radiation but black carbon falling on ice absorbs it helping accelerate warming and ice melt.

Black carbon comes from various sources, but shipping is a significant and growing part of the problem. As the ice melts, ships can shorten their routes by sailing through the Artic sea and shipping activity in the Arctic is predicted to grow significantly.

Seas at Risk is pushing for the International Maritime Organisation to agree measures that would limit black carbon emissions from international shipping.

Dirty ship fuels contribute to black carbon emissions and Seas at Risk is also working with the Clean Arctic Alliance towards a ban on the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO), the dirtiest of ships fuels, in the Arctic. This will reduce black carbon emissions and the risk of a heavy fuel oil spill in the Arctic. The latter is of particular concern as a heavy fuel oil spill in Arctic waters would be impossible to clean up effectively, and have a serious impact on wildlife and the natural resources that the traditional inhabitants of the Arctic often rely on for their livelihoods. For more on the “HFO Free Arctic” campaign look here.

Seas At Risk participated in the European Aquaculture Society’s annual Aquaculture Europe 2016 conference which took place from the 20th-23rd of September in Edinburgh, Scotland. Some promising research results (on among others aquaponics) point to the important role innovation can play in making the sector sustainable.

Seas At Risk criticises the decision of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council to sanction continued overfishing of Baltic cod. Fishing limits set above scientific advice will put the already pressured cod stocks at risk of collapse with detrimental effects for the small scale fishing fleets and coastal communities.

Those who will suffer most benefit least from global trade. The on-time implementation (in 2020) of a global low-sulphur fuel law for ships would prevent 200,000 premature deaths globally, a health study by a group of leading researchers from the United States and Finland reveals. Oil and gas industry association IPIECA and a group of shipping companies represented by BIMCO, are pushing hard to delay the measure for five years, The Guardian reveals. Later this month the International Marine Organisation (IMO) will decide whether to stick to the 2020 date, which was agreed by acclamation back in 2008 [1]. NGOs Seas at Risk and Transport & Environment (T&E), observers at the IMO, condemn any delay in the implementation of the sulphur cap for ship fuel, which would be unacceptable and unjustifiable.

Seas At Risk participated in the First Summit of the Blue Economy Business and Science Forum in Hamburg, 12th-13th September. The conference gave a good taste of the opportunities and challenges blue innovation poses to the future of our seas. While EU research seems more and more geared towards a ‘smart’ blue economy, the governance framework – and financial instruments - clearly still need to catch up.