In recent times, the idea of creating an emission control area for the Mediterranean Sea seems to have come back under the spotlight. The proposal was put forward by France, which, in the wake of the ECA models already seen in Northern Europe and in the United States, would deem it necessary to (re)try to introduce an area also in our seas.
Of course, the French proposal is grounded on the environmental benefits that the area could produce. However, before embracing the idea of a new ECA, we should also consider possible drawbacks.
Indeed, the Emission Control Area (ECA), is a sea area subject to minimization standards for airborne emissions from ships. More specifically, resolution MEPC 176(58) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) defined ECAs as areas where the adoption of special mandatory measures for emissions from ships is required to prevent, reduce and control air pollution from NOx or SOx and particulate matter (PM).
ECAs introduction is the result of the enactment of ANNEX VI to the MARPOL protocol. To that extent, ANNEX VI was approved in 1997, introducing limitations to emissions of harmful gases such as Sulphur oxides (SOx) and Nitrogen oxides (NOx). The same protocol has also prohibited any voluntary emission of ozone depleting substances (ODS), as well as the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOC).
Those limitations have increased over the years, until resolution MEPC 58 of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), adopted in 2008 and in force since 2010.
The actual limit of sulphur content of fuel used by ships is 0.10% m/m, whilst outside the ECAs the same limit is 3.5% m/m, even though it is destined to further decrease to 0.50% by 1 January 2020.
As far as the European scenario is concerned, today we have ECA areas located in the Baltic Sea and in the North Sea. As mentioned, after the French Authorities submitted a report explaining the benefits of a possible ECA in the Mediterranean Sea, this idea seems to be back on the agenda.
The benefits that an emission control area could bring are attributable to:
reduction of Sulphur gas, Nitrogen oxides and PM10 emissions. reduction of negative externalities and consequent socio-economic benefit: in practice, benefits would result in a saving on the national expenditure for healthcare (since the emission of harmful gases is directly proportional to the risk to human health) and above all in a significant reduction in the risk of environmental damage...