The 78th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 78) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which convened on 6-10 June 2022, approved the designation of the Mediterranean Sea Emissions Control Area for Sulphur Oxides and Particulate Matter (Med SOx ECA) under regulation 14 of Annex VI to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). The formal designation of the Med SOx ECA will be put forward for adoption at the 79th session of MEPC due to take place on 12-16 December 2022.
MEPC 78 granted its approval after considering the joint and coordinated proposal to designate the Mediterranean Sea, as a whole, as an Emission Control Area for Sulphur Oxides, which was submitted by all Mediterranean coastal States, along with all Member States of the European Union, and the European Commission. The submission of this proposal was agreed in December 2021 within the framework of the Mediterranean Action Plan of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP) at COP 22 of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean (Barcelona Convention).
The consensus reached among the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention on the proposal was the culmination of intense consultations facilitated by UNEP/MAP. The Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC), administered by the IMO in cooperation with UNEP/MAP, led on the preparatory technical work. A Technical Committee of Experts that REMPEC established in 2016 brought together representatives from all 21 Mediterranean coastal States and the European Union.
The preparatory work, undertaken as part of a roadmap adopted by the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, encompassed several studies carried out by UNEP/MAP components, namely REMPEC and the Plan Bleu Regional Activity Centre (PB/RAC), in cooperation with the Mediterranean Pollution Assessment and Control Programme (MED POL). The studies indicate that the potential benefits of the Med SOx ECA are considerable given the depth of the cuts in Sulphur Oxides (SOx) and Particulate Matter emissions that it would bring about.
In fact, capping sulphur content in fuel oil used on board ships operating within the Med SOx ECA at 0.10% m/m – i.e. one fifth of the current global legal limit— would translate into a 78.7 per cent drop in SOx emissions. In addition, the Med SOx ECA would reduce emissions of Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) by 23.7 per cent. Cleaner air means better health, including a reduced vulnerability to respiratory and cardiovascular ailments. Both inland and at sea, across large swathes of North Africa and in the Straits of Gibraltar, drivers and seafarers would also welcome improvements in visibility attributable to the reduction of SOx emissions.
There would be significant benefits for nature, too. When released in the atmosphere, SOx can cause acid rain and exacerbate ocean acidification. Farming, livestock husbandry and other socio-economic activities based on ecosystem services in the densely populated Mediterranean coastal zones would thus reap significant benefits.
Source: UN Environment Programme