Shipping sector cuts Nitrogen loads to the Baltic Sea

International Maritime Organization (IMO) has agreed to limit Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions from ships' exhaust gases in the Baltic Sea as proposed by HELCOM countries. A similar proposal from the North Sea countries was approved at the same 70th meeting of the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). After final confirmations at the next MEPC meeting in spring 2017, these two decisions will create a larger Nitrogen Emission Control Area (NECA) for new ships built in or after 2021.

NOx emissions from shipping is 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 EU ten years ago in 2007.

According to fresh estimates by European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP), consisting of deposition modelling based on available emission scenarios (Jonson et al 2015), the annual reduction in total 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 to the landmass draining to Baltic Sea, also called its catchment area.

The HELCOM Country Allocated Reduction Target (CART) scheme has divided a total load reduction commitment of 118,000 tons Nitrogen, and 15,000 tons Phosphorus among the coastal countries. Implementation of the scheme will result in curbing eutrophication problem in the Baltic.

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 will have many 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 catalyse 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 Sulphur 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% sulphur limit for fuel oil under the SECA led to drastic 88% 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 IMO meeting this week agreed that a global 0,5% limit in fuel oil sulphur content should be applied from 2020.

(Press release HELCOM, shortened)

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