• Cap on sulfur in ship fuel

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    ATTY. BRENDA V. PIMENTEL

    ATTY. BRENDA V. PIMENTEL

    As a follow-up to last week’s article, which focused on the protection of the marine environment and in keeping with the growing interest on pushing for better air quality, it is important to bring to the fore the decision taken by the 70th session of the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 70) on October 24 to 28. The landmark decision relates to setting the implementation date of January 1, 2020 for a global sulfur cap of 0.50 percent m/m (mass/mass) in the fuel oil used on board.

    The current global limit on sulfur on ship’s fuel, which has been in effect since January 1, 2012 under Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), is pegged at 3.50 percent. The interpretation of “fuel oil used on board” includes use in main and auxiliary engines and boilers.

    The cap of 0.50 percent m/m sulfur content in fuel oil represents a strong response by the global shipping industry to achieving the target in the Paris Climate Change Agreement. It will be recalled that on December 12, 2015, the international community agreed in Paris to make all necessary efforts to limit the global average temperature to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.

    IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, at the closing of MEPC 70, stated the decision shows the determination of the Organization to ensure that international shipping remains the most environmentally sound mode of transport. He said: “The reductions in sulfur oxide emissions resulting from the lower global sulfur cap are expected to have a significant beneficial impact on the environment and on human health, particularly that of people living in port cities and coastal communities, beyond the existing emission control areas.”

    Ships may meet the sulfur oxide (SOx) emission requirements by using approved equivalent methods, such as exhaust gas cleaning systems or “scrubbers”, which “clean” the emissions before they are released into the atmosphere. Adoption of this equivalent arrangement must be approved by the ship’s Administration (the flag State). Exemptions are provided for situations involving the safety of the ship or saving life at sea, or if a ship or its equipment is damaged.

    The Philippines is yet to ratify Annex VI of MARPOL, which deals with the regulations for the prevention of air pollution. The country has already adopted Annexes 1 to 5 of the Convention on the prevention of ship-generated pollution from oil, noxious liquid substances in bulk, harmful substances in package form, sewage and garbage.

    The Philippines is one of ten lead pilot countries participating in the IMO-GloMEEP project under the IMO, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which aims to assist developing countries to implement sustainable methods for reduction of ship energy use and promotion of a low carbon maritime sector in order to minimize the adverse impacts of shipping emissions on climate change and local air quality. Through this project, the Philippines will be able to fast-track the preparation of necessary legal, policy and institutional reforms and activities to support the proposal for ratification of Annex VI of MARPOL, and subsequently its implementation.

    The Philippine shipping and oil industry sectors should take note of the impact of this new requirement on the 0.50 percent m/m cap on the sulfur content of fuel oil and its date of effectivity. The cap will have implications on the availability of ships for international and domestic use with engines that operate on fuel oil with the sulfur content limit as well as on the availability in the domestic market for such fuels. Three years from now until January 1, 2020 may prove to be short in a country with long and tedious processes when ratifying and implementing maritime conventions.

    That President Duterte has reconsidered an earlier announcement not to ratify the Paris Climate Change Agreement should be seen as a signal to support the global objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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