The Regulation of Global SOx Emissions from Ships: IMO proceedings 1988-2008
Licentiate thesis, 2011
MARPOL Annex VI regulates air pollution from international shipping. Emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx) are regulated through a global limit for the sulphur content of bunker fuels (referred to as a global cap) as well as a stricter limit in particularly sensitive areas, referred to as SOx Emission Control Areas (SECAs). This thesis has investigated documentation from the sulphur deliberations at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for the purpose of explaining how the initial proposals for reducing sulphur emissions from ships ended with a global cap of 4.5% sulphur content in 1997, which was then revised in 2008 to 0.5% in 2020 (or 2025, subject to review in 2018).
The thesis does not provide a definitive history, but it gives an insight into how policy-making could happen at IMO. From this thesis, we can learn how IMO works as an international organization responsible for air pollution from ships and how it is reported in its documents. Moreover, it illustrates how industry interests can affect environmental policy. The results show a process that started in the 1980s when the regulation of land-based sources of acidification raised questions over the contribution of emissions from ships. The issue was raised at IMO in 1988. An early target was set to halve SOx emissions from ships by 2000. The focus then turned to a regional approach and a supplementary global cap. This was explained by the lack of support for a stringent global solution due to high costs for the oil industry. A global cap was introduced merely to prevent a possible increase in the sulphur content. The global average sulphur content at the time was less than 3%, though a 4.5% global cap was adopted in 1997. The only motivation for this cap was that it was a first step in a global regulation that could be amended in the future.
It then took until 2005 before Annex VI entered into force, and it was decided to revise it the same year. The work started in 2006. Several different policy options were discussed intensively, including a global uniform standard. It was concluded that the health effects from particulate matter (PM) emissions were one of the main reasons for revising the sulphur requirements to stricter limits. Nevertheless, high costs for the oil industry made the IMO focus on keeping the SECA approach. A final agreement was met in 2008. It was a compromise with stringent SECA limits and a global cap that would become stringent after a review of the ability of the oil industry to supply enough quantities of distillate fuels.
It was concluded that the global cap still has no effect and should not be interpreted as an emission ceiling until the future reveals its results. Moreover, the focus of the northern hemisphere on the air pollution regime is an important factor explaining the acceptance of moderate global regulation and stringent regional regulation. This thesis opens up for further research into how air pollution is dealt with at IMO. Three frames of reference were identified that could be used to study similar processes.
C 22 (building C, second floor), Vasagatan 1, School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg
Opponent: Prof. Oliver Lindqvist, Environmental Inorganic Chemistry, Chalmers University of Technology. Former Dean of Centre for Environment and Sustainability (GMV)