Illustration: © Lars-Erik Håkansson

16,000 lives could be saved

Full implementation of emission control measures in all European sea regions would provide net socio-economic benefits of up to €19 bn in 2030, rising to €40 bn in 2050.

On 31 January the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) published a comprehensive study on the potential for additional cost-effective measures to reduce air pollutant emissions from international shipping in all European sea regions, but with a special focus on the Mediterranean Sea. The study was produced on behalf of the European Commission’s DG Environment.

A series of alternative emission control measures was explored, including the establishment of new Emission Control Areas (ECA) for sulphur and nitrogen oxides (SECA and NECA), as well as the retrofitting of exhaust gas cleaning to existing ships to further cut emissions of NOx and particle matter (PM).

In brief, the report:

  • Updates the projections of the likely development of maritime transport activities and the resulting emissions of air pollutants and carbon dioxide;
  • Provides new assessments of costs of compliance with current legislation;
  • Improves understanding of the role of emissions from vessels in ports and in territorial waters;
  • Develops new scenarios for future emissions that would result from different policy measures;
  • Assesses their impacts on ambient air quality and resulting population exposure;
  • Estimates the associated benefits to human health, and quantifies these benefits in monetary terms; and,
  • Compares emission abatement costs with monetised benefits.

By employing the same methodologies and computer models that have previously been used by the European Commission when preparing and analysing the National Emission Ceilings Directive and, more recently, the Clean Air Outlook (AN 3/18, pp 6–8), the results are directly comparable.

Emissions from shipping contribute significantly to poor air quality in Europe and have large impacts in port cities and coastal areas. From a health perspective, this is particularly important since about half of the EU population lives within 50 kilometres of the sea.

While regulations already adopted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and EU will markedly cut ship SO2 emissions up to 2030, expected continued growth in shipping activities imply that – in the absence of additional regulations – emissions will gradually increase after 2030. In contrast, NOx emissions are expected to start rising again from 2020, and shortly after 2030 they will reach levels that exceed total land-based emissions in the EU-28.

However, implementing enhanced controls on emissions from international shipping in European seas could achieve significant emission cuts by 2030. Firstly, an extension of the SECA to all European sea regions would reduce emissions of SO₂ by over 90 per cent and PM2.5 by nearly half. Secondly, applying the IMO’s Tier III standards – which are mandatory for new ships in NECAs – could lower NOx emissions by nearly 30 per cent. And, thirdly, introducing diesel particulate filters (DPF) could further cut PM2.5 emissions to levels nearly 80 per cent below those in 2015 (see Table 1).

Table1: Total annual air pollutant emissions in all European sea areas under the baseline scenario for future fuel consumption and under four different emission abatement scenarios (thousand tonnes).

   2015 2020 2030 2050
      H1 H3 H7 H9 H1 H3 H7 H9
SO2  1230 308 435 116 116 116 640 165 165 165
NOx  2835 2794 3532 3532 2020 2020 4500 4500 1326 1326
PM2.5  175 89 125 94 94 41 180 135 135 14

H1: No additional measures (max 0.5% sulphur in fuels from 2020)
H3: Sulphur Emissions Control Area (SECA) in all seas (max 0.1% sulphur in fuels)
H7: As H3 + NECA in all seas from 2021 + some retrofits of NOx control on existing ships
H9: As H7 + PM emission control (DPF) on both new and existing ships

In 2050, despite the expected continued growth in shipping, these new measures could reduce emissions of SO2, PM2.5  and NOx by 87, 92 and 56 per cent respectively, as compared to 2015.

Moreover, by reducing fuel consumption, climate policy measures for shipping have significant co-benefits for air pollutant emissions. As an alternative to the 130 per cent increase in CO2 emissions by 2050 that would emerge from current growth trends, the study has investigated a scenario that assumes climate measures which result in stabilisation of CO2 emissions from shipping by 2050. Even though this alternative scenario clearly falls short of achieving the at least 50 per cent CO2 emissions cut recently established by the IMO, it would result in more than halving SO2, PM2.5 and NOx emissions, compared to what would be achieved with the full set of emission controls in the baseline scenario.

Enhanced sulphur controls through additional SECAs would quickly deliver significant benefits: by 2030 more than 4000 cases of avoided premature deaths annually, and 8000 cases by 2050. In the longer run, by 2050, application of additional NOx control measures could double these health benefits.

Since most of the emission reductions will take place in the Mediterranean Sea, the largest air quality improvements will occur along the coasts of Mediterranean countries, including North African and Middle East countries and Turkey. Of the approximately 16,000 avoided cases of premature death in 2050, about one third are in the EU-28.

It is concluded that the benefits of further emission controls outweigh the costs by a wide margin. Even when using the lower (most conservative) health valuation, all the policy measures examined in the report emerged as cost-effective, with monetised benefits typically exceeding emission control costs by a factor of 6 in 2030 and by a factor of 12 in 2050.

Assuming full implementation of all policy measures in all sea regions results in annual costs of €2.2–2.6 bn in 2030, while the benefits are estimated to amount to €11–21 bn. For the year 2050, the costs would be €1.9–3.4 bn and the benefits €19.8–42 bn. This means that if the higher health valuation is used, the resulting net socio-economic benefits could be up to €19 bn by 2030, rising to €40 bn by 2050 (see Table 2).

Table 2: Monetised benefits and costs for emission control scenarios within 2030 and 2050 under the baseline scenario for future fuel consumption (billion euro).


Benefits (low-high valuation)

Costs (low-high estimate) Benefits/costs ratio
All European sea areas1 2030 11.0-20.9 2.2-2.6 4.3-9.4
2050 19.8-42.0 1.9-3.4 5.8-21.8
Mediterranean Sea2 2030 6.0-10.7 0.9-1.1 5.3-12.0
2050 14.4-29.3 1.2-2.2 6.6-24.9

1 Assumes both SECA and NECA plus some retrofits of NOx and PM controls for all sea regions, except the NE Atlantic, where ECA is limited to the 12 nm zone.

2 Assumes both SECA and NECA; no retrofits.

Focusing specifically on the designation of the Mediterranean Sea as a full Emission Control Area could avoid 4100 cases of annual premature deaths by 2030, increasing to more than 10,000 avoided cases by 2050. Using the most conservative assumptions for health valuation, the monetised benefits are on average six times higher than the costs by 2030 and nearly ten times higher by 2050.

In a similar way this implies that when the higher health valuation is used, the resulting net socio-economic benefits of a full Mediterranean ECA could be up to €10 bn by 2030 and €28 bn by 2050.
According to IIASA, the results of this study will assist the European Commission in its activities and negotiations within the International Maritime Organization on further reductions of emissions from maritime transport in European seas. It is expected that the study will be a subject of discussion at the next session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee that takes place in London in May 2019.

Christer Ågren

The IIASA report “The potential for cost-effective air emission reductions from international shipping through designation of further Emission Control Areas in EU waters with focus on the Mediterranean Sea” and the annex can be downloaded from:

Figure: Ship emissions of SO2 (top) and NOx (bottom) in 2015 in kt per grid cell (note that the scales are different).



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