Sulphur Regulations for Shipping – Why a Regional Approach?: Scientific and Economic Arguments in IMO Documents 1988-1997
Doktorsavhandling, 2014

Some environmental issues for shipping are regulated globally with uniform standards and others with stricter regulations in specific areas. This thesis aims to provide an understanding of why a regional approach was chosen with SOx Emission Control Areas (SECAs) as the main form of control of sulphur oxide emissions from international shipping, with explanations based on documents from negotiations within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) during 1988-1997. The documents were investigated in search of scientific and economic arguments (including supportive information and reported discussions). These were analysed through two ‘conceptual lenses’ to provide different explanations, focusing on the roles of science and economic interests. These lenses were expected to show many explanatory differences, but significant interactions were found. It was found that the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO faced great scientific uncertainty on ship emissions and their contribution to acidification on land. This allowed for an increased role of economic interests, in particular when the Sub-Committee on Bulk Chemicals Handling began drafting regulations for Annex VI to the MARPOL Convention. The actors’ interests decided the policy relevance of science, which was used by the environmental and economic interests to compete rather than to enable consensus. Based on the economic interests of the actors that caused the problem and that would bear the costs of regulation, a science-critical policy environment emerged in which these actors showed as low a contribution as possible to acidification from shipping and extreme economic implications. The focus on the high costs for the oil industry and, in turn, higher fuel costs for shipping, was found to be the primary factor in explaining the regional approach. It was emphasized that economic self-interests are paramount in understanding both the economic and the scientific arguments and the way these could shape policy-making through the power of persuasion. Scientific arguments and claims were used to justify views with underlying economic arguments, which were strengthened with legitimacy. The IMO principles of a compelling need and taking into account costs and economic implications were the primary causes of the cost focus and the critical policy environment. This is a lesson for future policy issues in terms of achieving a balance between industry interests and environmental interests. This thesis’ empirical contribution is based on a large quantity of documents that revealed the scientific and economic basis of different actors’ policies and the policy choices and decisions made by two bodies of the IMO. It contributes theoretically by viewing an international environmental policy-making process through different conceptual lenses. In order to understand why policy-makers in some cases follow the path of environmental protection based on scientific claims and in others follow the path of economic self-interests, we need to take into account both with different conceptual lenses.







policy environment



conceptual lens


Annex VI

regional approach

economic interests

directional problem





Sal Gamma, Forskningsgången 4, Göteborg
Opponent: Professor Erik Røsæg, Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law, University of Oslo, Norway


Erik Svensson

Chalmers, Sjöfart och marin teknik

A regional approach with stricter regulations in specific areas has been decided by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to control sulphur oxide emissions from international shipping.In this thesis, the documented scientific and economic arguments during negotiations 1988-1997 were investigated through different ‘conceptual lenses’. The results show that economic interests were paramount for the choice of a regional approach. Science was used by environmental and economic interests to compete rather than to enable agreement. The geographical extent of the problem was thus never agreed on. It was further found that specific formulations for IMO’s work directed both the role of science and economic interests in this process. Erik Svensson, the author of this thesis, has a background in environmental science. His PhD career started in 2008 at the unit for international cooperation at the Swedish Maritime Administration. After his licentiate degree, he continued his PhD under a cross-disciplinary cooperation between the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology.


Hållbar utveckling




Tvärvetenskapliga studier



Grundläggande vetenskaper



Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 3785

Sal Gamma, Forskningsgången 4, Göteborg

Opponent: Professor Erik Røsæg, Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law, University of Oslo, Norway