US threatens to capsize marine emissions cap

(EurActiv, 24 Oct 2018) The United States is pushing for a late change to the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) landmark cap on sulphur emissions, throwing into doubt the 2020 implementation date.

Ocean-going vessels will have to burn fuel with no more than 0.5% sulphur content by the end of the decade, under IMO rules agreed back in late 2016 that lower the existing limit of 3.5%.

But the US has attempted to alter the course of the rapidly approaching deadline by pushing for an amendment that introduces an “experience-building phase” to the switch.

A meeting of the UN shipping body is ongoing at its London headquarters this week but delegates told the Financial Times that an agreement on the vague US-helmed change would be unlikely before Wednesday (24 October) at the earliest.

As a so-called flag state, which means ships registered in that country only have to abide by the laws imposed by that country while in international waters, the US wields a lot of power over a significant portion of the sector.

The IMO sulphur cap is meant to help shipping clean up its act directly, by reducing air pollution and particulate matter, and indirectly, as it is expected to boost the uptake of lower carbon fuels, including liquified natural gas (LNG).

Other steps put forward to meet the 0.5% limit include retrofitting ship exhaust stacks with so-called scrubbers, which filter out the sulphur.

Scrubbers are seen as a short-term but cost-effective option that does not resolve the issue of what to do with the sulphur once it has been filtered. The head of the Union of Greek Shipowners recently branded the IMO “hypocritical” for allowing their use beyond 2020.

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EurActiv, 24 Oct 2018: US threatens to capsize marine emissions cap