Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from ClientEarth (SES 18)


1. ClientEarth is a not-for-profit environmental law organisation. We work to protect the environment through advocacy, litigation and research. We have been working on air quality issues, in particular implementation and enforcement of the ambient air quality directive (Directive 2008/50/EC) in the UK, for over two years. ClientEarth is currently engaged in judicial review proceedings against the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for breaches of that directive.

2. ClientEarth welcomes the Commission’s proposal for a revision of Directive 1999/32/EC on the Sulphur content of Marine Fuel. We support in particular the introduction of the following standards, which are necessary to ensure alignment with standards laid down in the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL):

(a)A sulphur limit of 0.5% by 2020 in all waters.

(b)A sulphur limit of 0.1% (current 1.5%) in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the English Channel by 2015.

(c)Stricter sulphur limits for passenger ships.

3. However, the proposal does not go far enough, particularly in ensuring reductions of emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NOx) from the shipping sector.

Contribution of Shipping to Poor Air Urban Air Quality

4. Sulphur dioxide pollution from ships reacts in the atmosphere to form secondary particulate matter (PM). This can be transported long distances and contribute to poor air quality in urban areas on land.

5. Directive 2008/50/EC imposes legally binding limits on levels of harmful air pollutants in ambient air. The UK, like many other EU member states, has had difficulties in complying with the limits for particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Exceedances of limit values in urban areas in the UK are often blamed on transboundary pollution transported to the UK from Europe. For example, in March and April 2011 London and the South East of England experienced pollution episodes during which there were widespread exceedances of the daily PM10 limit value. Statements made by the Mayor of London attributed these problems to pollution blown to the UK from the continent on an easterly wind, claiming that up to 80% of measured PM10 during those episodes was from non-local sources. According to Defra source apportionment estimates, approximately 25% of monitored PM10 at the Marylebone Road monitoring station in 2009 was from secondary aerosol and primary long-range transport.1

Legal Implications

6. Defra and the Mayor of London currently project that the daily limit value will be complied with in London in 2011. However, it is acknowledged that this projection of compliance is very marginal. The UK is currently subject to infringement action by the European Commission due to repeated breaches of the daily limit value in Greater London. This infringement action is currently on hold, but the Commission has made clear that if the daily limit value is exceeded in 2011 it will resume action against the UK and fast-track the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The CJEU ultimately has the power to issue unlimited lump sum and daily fines.

7. Failure to take all measures to address transboundary sources of PM10 could lead to further exceedances of the daily limit value in London and consequently escalated infringement action by the Commission. This would cause considerable political embarrassment and ultimately serious financial loss in the event that fines were imposed by the CJEU. It would also leave the Secretary of State vulnerable to further domestic legal action by concerned individuals and groups within the UK.

Oxides of Nitrogen

8. In addition to sulphur dioxide, MARPOL Annex VI contains provisions on reducing emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) from ships. NOx emissions from the shipping sector are expected to overtake emissions from all EU land-based sources by 2020 if no action is taken. However, the Commission proposal does not include the 2008 MARPOL Annex VI amendments relating to NOx emissions. There is currently no EU legislation which directly controls NOx emissions from ships.

9. NOx pollution has serious negative impacts on human health and the environment. NOx is a precursor to tropospheric ozone and secondary particulate matter, both of which are harmful to human health. One form of NOx is nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is an oxidative gas which irritates the eyes and airways, exacerbates asthmatic symptoms and is associated with short-term increases in mortality. Directive 2008/50/EC therefore imposes limit values for ambient levels of NO2. NO2 is a particular problem for the UK and London. Currently 40 of the 43 air quality zones in the UK are in breach of limit values for NO2. London is thought to have the worst NO2 pollution of any EU capital city.

10. The Parliament and Council should ask the Commission to come forward with measures to address NOx from both new and existing ships as soon as possible, including mandatory Tier III standards for new ships and economic instruments, such as emission charges, for existing ships.

October 2011

1 Defra, “Update to the Air Quality Plan for the Daily Mean PM10 Limit Value for Greater London Agglomeration Zone, UK: June 2011” page 7:

Prepared 8th March 2012