The EU to act on NOx from shipping if IMO does not move in a few months

Publish date: October 19, 2007

Written by: Eivind Hoff

BRUSSELS - In its strongest ultimatum to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) yet, European Commission (EC) director-general for the environment, Mogens Peter Carl, said European Union regulation drafting procedures may begin “with a few months" unless the IMO moves on negotiations on nitrous oxide emissions.

The EC has for years threatened to propose EU regulations unilaterally unless the IMO strengthens NOx emissions. Now the EC seems to be losing patience quickly.

“If the IMO does not move successfully within a few months, the pressure on the Commission to come forward with proposals for unilateral action will be such that we have to prepare such proposals,” Carl said.

According to those interviewed by Bellona Web, many EU Member States would prefer to give the IMO time until the meeting of its Marine Environmental Protection Committee in April 2008 to reach agreement on lower emission limits. The EC is less patient and may move ahead with drafting new EU rules before that time.

“Although we prefer global solutions for global challenges, it is important to seek progress wherever politically possible,” said Konrad Pütz, Bellona’s advisor on environmental technology and transport. The IMO has too long proven a lack of capacity to deal with air pollution from shipping, and Bellona therefore strongly welcomes EU initiatives on these issues.

Binding legislation needed to curb NOx emissions

NOx emissions have complex impacts. They lead, among others, to the creation of health-hazardous ground-level ozone and to the acidification and eutrophication – an excessive richness of nutrients, which causes dense plant growth and strangles animal life in seas, lakes and rivers.

Shipping represents a significant share of NOx emissions of maritime states, and a fresh report by Norwegian environmental NGO, The Future In Our Hands (FIVH) demonstrates the necessity of binding legislation to curb NOx emissions.

Norway today produces the highest per capita emissions of NOx in Europe, at 42 kilograms annually, according to the FIVH report. Coastal shipping and the oil industry account for 37 percent of these emissions.

Norway – like most other European States – has taken on commitments under the Gothenburg protocol, which covers airborne pollutants that travel long distances and was negotiated under the UN Economic Commission for Europe with the goal of cutting NOx emissions by 30 percent from 1990 levels by 2010.

Norway lags behind in NOx cuts
However, no domestic court will consider their government legally obliged to fulfil commitments under the Gothenburg protocol, Norway, for instance, has cut emissions by only 8 percent. In the EU, however, a directive on NOx emissions ceilings has turned the Gothenburg commitments into a legal obligation for all EU Member States.

As a consequence, Norway’s neighbours like Denmark or Sweden have already more than achieved the 30 percent target.

“Norway has done too little too late, and is positioned to break its international commitments,” said Pütz.

Being downstream of major European countries, Norway thereby sends a very unhealthy signal to its partners. Norway’s inaction weakens the positive international regime change that is coming.

“Bellona, together with other Norwegian NGO’s, have campaigned to make Norway implement EU directives increasing the pressure to comply with the ceilings. But so far the lack of political will and Norwegian short sighted sector interest has prevented implementation,” said Pütz.