The Mediterranean Reaches A ‘Breakthrough’ for Greener Shipping

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Credits: CHUTTERSNAP/Unsplash

Adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Mediterranean Sea Emission Control Area for Sulphur Oxides and Particulate Matter (Med SOx ECA) is set to come into effect on 1 May 2025, reports UNEP.

Prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution

The adoption by IMO is the upshot of a successful multilateral process stewarded by the Mediterranean Action Plan of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP), which saw the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention forge consensus and submit a coordinated proposal to the UN specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships.

The Mediterranean Sea has thus become the fifth area worldwide to be designated as an Emission Control Area for Sulphur Oxides and Particulate Matter. Once Med SOx ECA comes into effect, ships operating in it will be required to comply with a limit for sulphur content in fuel oil that is a fifth of the legal limit outside this area (0.10 per cent mass by mass (m/m), compared with 0.50 per cent m/m allowed outside Med SOx ECA).

This translates into a 78.7 per cent drop in emissions of sulphur oxides and an annual reduction of 8.5 million tonnes of SOx released into the atmosphere. In addition, emissions of Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) would be slashed by 23.7 per cent.

Pursuit of common global objectives

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.”

Curbing SOx emissions

UNEP/MAP acted as a forum for the intergovernmental negotiations on Med SOx ECA and catalysed progress, including 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.

According to studies undertaken by UNEP/MAP, lower levels of air pollutants will benefit aquatic and land ecosystems in the Mediterranean basin, notably by preventing acidification.  Human health benefits include the prevention of 1,100 premature deaths and 2,300 cases of childhood asthma every year. Curbing SOx emissions will also bolster transport safety, as it would enhance visibility both inland and at sea across large swathes of North Africa and in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Med SOx ECA marks a turning point in the Mediterranean, which is home to some of the busiest maritime routes in the world, supporting 20 per cent of seaborne trade. It is estimated that in 2019, 24 per cent of the global fleet of ships and more than 17 per cent of worldwide cruises plied the Mediterranean Sea.

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Source: UNEP

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