MEPC Agrees NOx Control Areas

black smoke

Published Oct 31, 2016 7:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

The IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) agreed to limit Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions from ships' exhaust gases during its meeting last week.

The agreement relates to both the Baltic and North Seas, and final confirmation is expected at the next MEPC meeting in spring 2017. 

The decision will create a larger Nitrogen Emission Control Area (NECA) for new ships built in or after 2021.

NOx emissions from shipping are a major source of airborne deposition of nitrogen, aggravating nutrient pollution or eutrophication which is one of the main environmental concerns in the Baltic. The initiative to cut this source of pollution by a Baltic Sea NECA under MARPOL Annex VI emerges from the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan, agreed by the nine coastal countries and the E.U. in 2007.

According to fresh estimates by the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP), the annual reduction in nitrogen deposition to the Baltic Sea area will be 22,000 tons as a combined effect of the Baltic and North Seas NECAs and compared to a non-NECA scenario. However, a lengthy period of fleet renewal is needed before the regulation will show full effect.

Out of this total anticipated reduction in nitrogen deposition, 7,000 tons is estimated to be reduction from direct deposition to the Baltic Sea surface and the remaining 15,000 tons is estimated to be reduced from deposition on the Baltic Sea catchment area.

The HELCOM Country Allocated Reduction Target scheme has divided a total load reduction commitment of 118,000 tons nitrogen, and 15,000 tons phosphorus among the coastal countries. The estimated 7,000 ton reduction in nitrogen deposition to the surface of the Baltic Sea alone is more than the total nitrogen reduction commitment of an average Baltic Sea coastal country within the HELCOM scheme of national commitments. In other words, five out of nine coastal countries have a total annual reduction quota for nitrogen loads which is less than 7,000 tons.

Besides cutting emissions, the new regulations are expected to have indirect positive effects for the Baltic Sea marine environment. The new NECAs will likely increase the use of green shipping technology and alternative fuels such as LNG, and in general catalyze technological innovations in the field of green shipping. Voluntary schemes for existing ships will be essential to achieve additional NOx emission reductions.

The Baltic Sea was designated as a Sulfur Emission Control Area (SECA) in 1998 based on a similar proposal, also developed within HELCOM Maritime Working Group during the 1990s. In 2015, the enforcement of the 0.1 percent sulfur limit for fuel oil under the SECA led to 88 percent reductions in SOx emissions from shipping in the Baltic Sea region compared with 2014, as estimated by the Finnish Meteorological Institute and reported by Finland to the HELCOM Maritime Working Group in September. 

The MEPC meeting also agreed that a global 0.5 percent limit in fuel oil sulfur content from 2020.