Environmental groups have welcomed the deal announced by European Parliament representatives, the EC and EU member states to reduce the sulphur content of marine fuels. The deal now needs to be approved formally by the Council and Parliament.

Environmental groups have welcomed the deal announced by European Parliament representatives, the EC and EU member states to reduce the sulphur content of marine fuels. The deal now needs to be approved formally by the Council and Parliament.

The agreement relates to rules that aimed to put into EU law the global limits on sulphur agreed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2008, and confirms that the IMO global limit of 0.5% sulphur for marine fuels will apply in all EU waters in 2020.

Up until now there has been some uncertainty over the entry-into-force date of the IMO global standard in Europe, but the EU has now sent a clear signal that it wants cleaner fuels earlier rather than later while still leaving eight years for the industry to adapt.

The agreement also confirms the IMO sulphur limit of 0.1% sulphur for 2015 which applies to so-called Sulphur Emissions Control Areas (SECAs) in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and English Channel.

Currently fuel used by ships in non-SECA EU waters contains on average 2.7% sulphur so the new 0.5% limit is a very significant 85% cut. The United States and Canada have led the way in cutting shipping air pollution on a continent-wide scale having already agreed to designate all sea within 370km of the North American coast as a SECA with a 0.1% limit from 2015.

While welcoming the agreement, environmental groups have warned that poor enforcement may undermine the effectiveness of the new rules. Current enforcement of fuel quality standards for ships is very poor with as little as one check per day even in major ports. The European Commission and Member States are urged to ensure that these rules are strictly enforced in EU waters.

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