Accept Refuse

EUR-Lex Access to European Union law

This document is an excerpt from the EUR-Lex website

Document 52002DC0595

Strategy to reduce atmospheric emissions from seagoing ships

Go to the summaries’ table of contents

This summary has been archived and will not be updated, because the summarised document is no longer in force or does not reflect the current situation

Strategy to reduce atmospheric emissions from seagoing ships

The European Union wants to take stock of the environmental and health problems caused by atmospheric emissions from seagoing ships and to define objectives, actions and recommendations to help reduce such emissions over the next ten years.


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, of 20 November 2002, "A European Union strategy to reduce atmospheric emissions from seagoing ships" [COM (2002) 595 final, Volume I - Not published in the Official Journal].


The strategy includes the above communication and a Directive on the sulphur content of marine fuels (see Related acts below).

Impact on environment and health

Emissions from seagoing ships include air pollutants, greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting substances entailing risks for human health and the environment. Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from ships are responsible for acid deposition, which can be harmful to the environment, as well as particulate matter harmful to health. NOx and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone harmful to health and to the environment. NOx emissions contribute to environmentally damaging eutrophication. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions contribute to climate change. Halon emissions damage the ozone layer.

The communication contains a table showing emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases from ships in Community waters in 2000 as well as projected emissions for 2010 and their environmental impact. Other figures show ships' SO2 emissions in EU sea areas, the contributions of ships' SO2 and NOx emissions to critical loads of acidity being exceeded, the role of NOx and COV emissions in the concentration of ground-level ozone in Europe and the role of ships' emissions of NOx in exceeding the critical loads of nutrient nitrogen.

Preventive measures deployed

At the international level, Annex VI of the MARPOL Convention (adopted by the International Maritime Organisation in 1997, but not yet in force) sets regulations for the prevention of air pollution by ships. The Kyoto Protocol also calls for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships.

To date, the bulk of Community legislation on atmospheric emissions does not apply to ships. As a result, in the European Union, ship emissions are higher than other land-based transport emissions. For example, by 2010, SO2 emission from ships in European waters are likely to account for 75% of all emissions from EU land-based sources. There are, however, a number of Community measures requiring the Commission to take action on ship emissions:

  • Directive 2001/81/EC on national emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants commits the Commission to report on the extent to which emissions from maritime traffic contribute to acidification, eutrophication and the formation of ground-level ozone;
  • Directive 1999/32 relating to a reduction in the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels sets sulphur limits for marine distillate oil used in EU territorial waters;
  • Directive 94/63/EC on the control of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions resulting from the storage of petrol and its distribution from terminals to service stations [Official Journal L 365 of 31.12.1994] provides that the Commission must consider extending the scope of the Directive to include the loading and unloading of ships;
  • Regulation (EC) No 2037/2000 on substances that deplete the ozone layer bans the marketing and use of ozone-depleting substances in the EU;
  • The Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) Programme tackles all sources of atmospheric emissions;
  • The sixth Environment Action Programme: one of the objectives of 6EAP is to achieve levels of air quality that do not have unacceptable effects on human health and the environment, and to stabilise greenhouse gases emissions in order to prevent unnatural variations of the earth's climate.

In recent years, economic instruments have been introduced in some countries and ports around the world to encourage ships to reduce their atmospheric emissions. These include differential taxes on marine fuels, differentiated port and fairway dues, and differentiated tonnage taxes.

Strategy objectives and actions

The objectives of the strategy are:

  • to reduce ships' emissions of SO2 where they contribute to critical loads for acidification being exceeded, and where they affect local air quality;
  • to reduce ships' emissions of NOx where they contribute to critical loads for acidification and eutrophication being exceeded, and build-ups of ground-level ozone which affect health and the environment;
  • to reduce ships' emissions of primary particles where these affect local air quality;
  • to reduce ships' emissions of VOCs where these contribute to build-ups of ground-level ozone which affect health and the environment;
  • to reduce ships' emissions of CO2;
  • to eliminate emissions of ozone-depleting substances from all ships operating in EU waters.

The communication outlines a number of actions to achieve these objectives, including:

  • coordinating the positions of EU Member States within the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to press for tougher measures to reduce ship emissions. The entry into force of MARPOL Annex VI setting regulations for the prevention of air pollution from ships is a fundamental aspect of the strategy;
  • adopting the proposal for a Directive amending Directive 1999/32/EC to limit the sulphur content of marine fuels (see Related acts below);
  • amending Directive 97/68/EC on NOx and PM emissions standards from non-road engines;
  • if the IMO has not proposed tighter international standards by 2007, to bring forward a proposal to reduce NOx emissions from seagoing vessels;
  • to remove, by 2010, the exemption which permits the use of halon on board existing cargo ships operating in EU waters;
  • although measures are not needed at the moment, to re-examine the possibility of proposing legislation in future to reduce VOC emissions from ship-loading;
  • to examine the use of a set of economic instruments providing incentives to reduce ships' atmospheric emissions beyond regulatory requirements;
  • to launch a charging regime on the basis of ships' environmental performance to benefit the least damaging;
  • to fund research into low-emission ship technologies;
  • to organise conferences on best practice in the field of ship emission reduction technologies.


Commission Recommendation 2006/339/EC of 8 May 2006 on the promotion of shore-side electricity for use by ships at berth in Community ports [Official Journal L 125 of 12.5.2006]

The Commission stresses that, if the present trend continues, maritime transport could be responsible for more pollution than land-based sources by 2020. It recommends Member States to install shore-side electricity for use by ships at berth in ports and to offer economic incentives to operators to use such electricity. According to experts, the supply of electricity to berths would significantly reduce emissions of particulate matter, VOCs, NOx and SO2. The Commission calls on Member States to work within the IMO to promote the development of harmonised international standards for shore-side electrical connections.

Directive 2005/33/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2005 amending Directive 1999/32/EC relating to a reduction in the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels [Official Journal L 191 of 22.07.2005] This Directive extends the scope of Directive 1999/32/EC to all petroleum-derived liquid fuels used by ships operating within Member States' waters. It provides for measures such as abolishing existing derogations for marine gas oils, enforcing the 1.5% limit on sulphur content in Emission Control Areas as defined by the International Maritime Organisation, applying the same limit to all passenger ships operating on schedules services to or from any Community port, requiring all ships at berth in Community ports to use a fuel with a sulphur content not exceeding 0.1%, and allowing the use of approved emission abatement technologies as an alternative to using low-sulphur marine fuels.

Last updated: 19.06.2006