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The Mediterranean is set for more stringent sulphur limits after the littoral countries agreed to the designation of a 0.10% sulphur emission control area (MedECA) in the region.

The decision was taken at the meeting of the contracting parties of the Barcelona Convention in Antalya this week, the European Commission confirmed today (10 December).

Commenting, the European Union (EU) Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: ‘Our commitment today manifests the will to work with our non-EU partners to achieve high standards of environmental protection in line with our European Green Deal. I am particularly proud that all contracting parties have agreed to designate the Mediterranean as a sulphur emission control area to protect the health of millions of Mediterranean citizens and their marine environment from ship’s pollution.’

The littoral countries agreed to proceed with the final step to apply for a SECA covering the whole Mediterranean Sea at the respective International Maritime Organization (IMO) meeting in early 2022.

Once the proposal has gone through the necessary steps at the IMO, the MedECA is expected to be in force in January 2025 – 10 years after similar SECAs were established in northern Europe and the Americas.

However, a regulation on nitrogen emissions (NOx) from ships will not be included in the submission to the IMO - though the countries agreed to work on NOx in the next two years which could potentially bring about a NOx ECA.

Beate Klünder, project manager at Berlin-based environmental group NABU, said: ‘The group of NGOs which campaigned for a MedECA for years now welcomes the decision of the Mediterranean states. This is a huge step forward to cleaner air in the region.’

However, Klünder expressed her regret over the lack of progress on a NOx ECA.

‘This is disappointing as comprehensive scientific evidence shows that only a combined sulphur and nitrogen emission control area will maximise health benefits,’ said Klünder. ‘A combined ECA in the Mediterranean Sea could avoid 3,100 to 4,100 premature deaths annually in 2030. To have just one of two effective measures in place is like fighting a fire with just a bucket of water instead of using the fire hose.’

Klünder added: ‘After nearly ten years of successful SECA and one year of NECA regulation in the North and Baltic Sea; we will only see a sulphur regulation in the Med. This is a lost opportunity, now the leaders of the Mediterranean countries have to show ambition in the next steps and must swiftly agree on a nitrogen regulation for ships in the Mediterranean to effectively protect people’s health, the environment and the climate.’

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