Benefits of nitrogen reductions in North Sea shipping exceed costs

Two studies have analysed the costs and benefits of creating a nitrogen emission control area in the North Sea and the English Channel. Such a control area requires new ships to emit 75 per cent less in nitrogen oxide, from 2016 onwards. This is expected to lead to substantial benefits for health and nature.

Substantial benefits from reducing nitrogen oxide emissions from ships in the North Sea

Reducing nitrogen oxide emissions from ships in the North Sea would substantially benefit both public health and the environment. This is the main conclusion from two new studies led by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. The eight North Sea countries bordering the North Sea have jointly commissioned independent studies into the costs and benefits of creating a nitrogen emission control area (NECA) in the North Sea and the English Channel, from 2016 onwards. Under the Maritime Pollution Convention (MARPOL) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), countries may apply for designation of the North Sea as a NECA. Such an emission control area would require new ships from 2016 onwards to emit 75% less nitrogen oxide (NOx) than the current level. The area designation by IMO is done on the basis of detailed studies of benefits for human health and the environment, and costs related to the strict emission requirements.

Results from these studies show that monetised health benefits would exceed the costs of installing and operating emission control equipment on the ships. Moreover, less nitrogen deposition will occur, leading to reduced impacts on nature. On the cost side, impacts on freight rates are expected to be only marginal and are unlikely to lead to a shift towards land-based transportation modes. The EU has set standards for maximum allowed concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in the air. The establishment of a North Sea NECA would help to improve air quality, since the emissions from ships in the busy North Sea are carried on the wind towards the densely populated areas on land.

The cost-effectiveness of a NECA, i.e. the relationship between costs and benefits, compared to other reduction initiatives, shows that effective measures may also be taken on land. In agriculture and industry, air polluting emissions could be reduced further and against costs that are even lower than those of sea-based measures. However, using only such land-based measures would limit the potential air quality improvement in the North Sea region.

To meet the NECA requirements of reducing NOX emissions by 75 per cent, three different technologies are available for ships: A DeNOx catalyst known as the SCR system; an exhaust gas recirculation system; and the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) instead of conventional fuel oils.

The environmental impact and health benefit assessment was carried out by a consortium consisting of the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, the Dutch DCMR Environmental Protection Agency Rijnmond, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the UK Ecometrics Research and Consulting. The economic impact assessment was carried out by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, Danish Incentive Partners, the Danish Maritime Environmental Consultancy Litehauz, and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

The North Sea countries will meet in October 2012 to discuss the way forward


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Integral Nitrogen

Integral nitrogen summarizes PBL contributions to European and global studies related to the use and distribution of reactive nitrogen.

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