The story behind regional SOx regulations for shipping

In twelve days the SECA-regulations regarding sulphur emissions from shipping is taking effect. The fact that it ended up in regional regulations has been much debated. New research by Erik Svensson at Chalmers gives the answer to why.

Headquarters' of the International Maritime Organisation, IMO.

The discussions on sulphur regulations in shipping were raised in IMO as early as 1988, by the North Sea states and the Baltic Sea states who suffered from acidification. Since they saw air pollution from ships as a global problem, the plan was to obtain global regulations. That was also the instructions given from the main committee, MEPC, to the subcommittee BCH who developed the regulations during the 90’s. But when BCH presented the regulations in 1997, they were not global, but regional with a number of SECA areas. This change interested Erik Svensson, and his PhD thesis – which he successfully defended this week – has focused on this issue.

To find the answer he has studied hundreds of documents from IMO during the time between 1988 and 1997.
- What I’ve found is that the main reason for the change was the role of economic interests. Petroleum producers focused intensively on how global regulations would mean extreme costs for them, for shipping companies, and in the end also for the society, says Erik Svensson.
So in IMO they started looking at regional regulations instead, meaning that the costs would affect fewer actors, ergo: easier to achieve. To defend this regional take the BCH committee in IMO translated science to argue for that SOx regulations were only needed at regional levels.

- Another way to look at it is the conclusion I made in my licentiate thesis, that the regional approach only was made because there was no possibilities for global regulations, says Erik Svensson.
He also mentions that it’s important to notice that it’s much easier now to amend SOx regulations and achieve global regulations, since they are a part of MARPOL (the international convention on the prevention of pollution from ships).
- I recommend IMO to level out the regulations, to start with higher level of sulphur content allowed and slowly go down to the levels in the SECA areas. Then you remove the SECA’s. This way we have a levelled playing field for the shipping industry, and the environment and global health will benefit from it.

The man behind the research: Erik Svensson.