what was at stake
green position
what we achieved
what we did not achieve

The sulphur content of marine fuels

Burning of fossil fuels containing sulphur causes emission of fine particles that are very dangerous to human health. This is why sulphur emissions from cars and power stations have been regulated for decades and air quality of Europe has improved. Emissions from ships were ignored for a long time.

In the EU around 50,000 people are estimated to die each year prematurely from the effects of sulphur and other air pollutants in marine fuels. The external costs of diseases caused by air pollution from international ship traffic correspond to around 7% of total air pollution related health costs in the EU.

In 2008, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), of which all EU Member States are members, decided to reduce the sulphur content of marine fuels. The agreement reached foresaw a reduction of the sulphur content in fuel from 1.5% to 0.1% in 2015 in certain areas. If no measures were taken, ship-based sulphur emissions would exceed land-based pollution by 2020.


What was the Greens' position?

The Greens believe that sulphur emissions should be reduced in fuels for all kinds of ships and throughout the EU, including very remote areas and areas under the competence of Member States. This is not only because sulphur affects human health, but also because it harms the development of vegetation and thus impacts on entire ecosystems.

We are also demanding a strict system of monitoring and penalties in the event that new standards are flouted.

If the EU implements standards according to a strict schedule it will create incentives for the refinery industry to produce sufficient quantities of fuel. Given the size of the EU market, this means the schedule of the IMO can be maintained.


Did other MEPs accept the Greens' position?

The Greens succeeded in convincing a majority in Parliament and in the Council to adopt the standards initially proposed by the IMO.

Thanks to our insistence, the EU will respect the IMO's initial schedule, which will in turn make it easier for all IMO Member States to do so.

We obliged the Commission to assess the effectiveness of the agreement in 2013, with the options of both extending the rules to areas close to the coasts of Member States and improving the penalty system.


Which points did the Greens lose?

The Greens were unable to extend the scope of IMO standards to cover passenger vessels in the EU.

We first had to accept an exemption for remote Greek islands during negotiations in Parliament, then to relinquish stricter standards governing passenger ships in general in negotiations with the Council.

But passenger traffic only accounts for a small proportion of overall maritime flows.

Consequently, in the negotiations we focussed on implementing the IMO's strict initial schedule.

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Reference(s):Ordinary legislative procedure

Lead MEP:Satu Hassi (GREENS/EFA)

Green MEP responsible:Satu Hassi


Staff contact:Terhi Lehtonen (Email)

Outcome of the vote
Below you find the results of the final vote in plenary. How did the political groups vote? What about national delegations? And what was the position of your MEP?