The 79th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 79) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was convened from 12 to 16 December 2022 at IMO Headquarters in London. On 15 December 2022 MEPC 79 adopted the drafted amendments and formally designated the Mediterranean Sea, as a whole, as an Emission Control Area (ECA) for Sulphur Oxides and particulate matter under regulation 14 of Annex VI to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) in an effort to halt the air pollution from ships.
The amendment is expected to enter into force on 1 May 2024, with the new limit taking effect from 1 May 2025. Once it comes into effect on 1 May 2025, any ship operating in Med SOx ECA will be required to comply with a limit for sulphur content in fuel oil capped at 0.10 per cent mass by mass (m/m) equivalent to one fifth of the current legal limit of 0.50 per cent m/m applicable outside Emission Control Areas.*
Moreover, according to studies, the designation of the Med Sox ECA will result in lowering emissions by 78.7% for SOx and by 23.7% for Particular Matter (PM 2.5). Additionally, it is estimated that the Med SOx will lead to an annual reduction of 8.5 million tonnes of SOx released into the atmosphere, thus bringing tangible benefits to the aquatic and land ecosystems in the Mediterranean basin, and the human health.
Following the decision made by the 79th MEPC, the Mediterranean Sea becomes the the fifth designated Emission Control Area for Sulphur Oxides and Particulate Matter worldwide, joining the Baltic Sea area, the North Sea area, the North American area (covering designated coastal areas off the United States and Canada) and the United States Caribbean Sea area (around Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands).
Besides, the adoption of the Med SOx highlights the catalytic role of the environmental multilateralism and regional solidarity in the global effort to prevent marine and atmospheric pollution provoked by ships. In particular, the decision IG.25/14 on the Designation of the Mediterranean Sea, as a whole, as an Emission Control Area for Sulphur Oxides (Med SOx ECA) according to MARPOL Annex VI adopted by the Twenty-second Ordinary Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols (COP 22) in December 2021 paved the way for all Mediterranean coastal States, along with all Member States of the European Union, and the European Commission to come together and submit a joint and coordinated proposal to MEPC 78 for declaring Mediterranean an Sox ECA.
UNEP/MAP acted as a catalytic forum for the intergovernmental negotiations on Med SOx ECA strengthening this process through the scientific and technical support provided by the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) and the Plan Bleu Regional Activity Centre.
Mehmet Emin Birpınar, Deputy Minister of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change of Türkiye, who addressed MEPC 79 as President of the Bureau of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols (21 Mediterranean countries and the European Union), hailed Med SOx ECA as a paragon of regional cooperation that is anchored into the pursuit of common global objectives. Mr. Birpinar paid tribute to crucial decisions adopted at COP 21 (Naples, Italy, 2-5 December 2019) and COP 22 (Antalya, Türkiye, 7-10 December 2021) of the Barcelona Convention that paved the way for this achievement.
“Congratulations to the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention on this historic achievement and ambitious commitment. We look forward to supporting their efforts on ratification and implementation,” said Tatjana Hema, the Coordinator of the Mediterranean Action Plan of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP). “Once again the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system demonstrates its vitality, this time by triggering a global commitment by IMO to reduce air pollution from ships.”
*The “IMO 2020 “ Regulation which entered into force in January 2020 limits the sulphur in the fuel oil used on board ships operating outside designated emission control areas to 0.50% m/m (mass by mass) – a significant reduction from the previous limit of 3.5%. Within specific designated emission control areas the limits were already stricter (0.10%). This new limit was made compulsory following an amendment to Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). For more information See: https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/Sulphur-2020.aspx
Sources: IMO, UNEP/MAP, REMPEC
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About the author
MEPIELAN Centre is an international research, training and educational centre established by Professor Evangelos Raftopoulos at the Panteion University of Athens in 2008.
Before its establishment as a University Centre, MEPIELAN operated as a successful international research, training and informational programme (2002-2007) under the scientific direction of Professor Evangelos Raftopoulos and the aegis of the Panteion University of Athens, supported by the Mediterranean Action Plan/UNEP and the Greek Ministry of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works.
MEPIELAN Centre is an accredited UNEP/MAP PARTNER (since 2013), a Member of the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development (MCSD) (since 2016), and a Member of the Steering Committee of the MCSD (since 2019).
On 22 May 2022, MEPIELAN Centre proceeded to the development of MEPIELAN as a Non- Profit Civil Organization (INGO) for the more effective and efficient advancement of its Goals and Missions and furtherance of its activities. MEPIELAN Centre as a Non- Profit Civil Organization (INGO) is registered in Greek Law (Hellenic Business Registry, Reg. No. 16477300100) in accordance with Laws 4072/2012 & 4919/2022 as applicable