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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Improving air quality – how shipping can help

Maritime Stakeholder event "Clean air at sea – promoting solutions for sustainable and competitive shipping"

Brussels, 1st June 2011

I'd like to thank you for the possibility of joining you today to discuss a subject that is high on my agenda – and yours also.

Since you will be hearing more on the forthcoming revision of the Sulphur Directive later, I want to use my time to get you up to speed on where we are with the EU's air policy, and on my programme for a comprehensive review by 2013.

I want to remind you too that while reducing emissions from maritime shipping is of key importance, it is only one element in the wider air quality picture.

Air quality policy in the EU has largely been a success story. Since the Nineties, we have reduced emissions from almost all relevant pollutants.

Sulphur dioxide is down by 78%, heavy metals between 60-90%, and nitrous oxides (NOx) are down by 39%. But, it hasn't all been good news: we haven't been so successful with ground-level ozone or particulate matter, which is one of the most harmful in terms of health.

We've achieved these successes through continuous legislative action, mostly targeted at land-based mobile and stationary sources. Despite this, we are still some way from achieving our goal, laid down in 2002 in the 6th EAP: to ensure that air pollution does not pose any significant risk to human health and the environment.

In practice, up to 62% of Europe's urban population could still be exposed to ambient PM10 air concentrations higher than the EU limit value for the protection of human health.

Member States were allowed to extend the deadlines by when to apply the PM10 limit values. Yet only about 20% of all the zones in question fulfilled all the criteria, to allow such an extension.

There are many reasons for poor urban air quality and I could not possibly cover all of them today.

But the contribution to air pollution from outside urban areas or even from outside the country is a growing issue. This level of so called "imported air pollution" can be as high as 40%.

The main sources are industry, transport, energy, agriculture and households. And while some sectors have significantly reduced their levels of air pollution over the past 20 years, others have had less success.

Your sector – the marine sector – is important both economically and socially. And we want it to become even more important. But with importance comes responsibilities. And since the growth in maritime emissions became more significant, so did its responsibility for containing it. In part this is because regulations have significantly lagged behind those from land-based sources. Back in 2005, we estimated that without proper implementation of the IMO regulation, sulphur emissions from shipping will have exceeded those from land-based sources by 2020 – this is why we called on the IMO to stop this happening.

And the IMO stepped up and delivered.

The 2008 Amendment of the IMO's MARPOL Annex VI delivered the progress we wanted. It was a landmark decision that will potentially help to resolve many existing air quality problems in the EU.

Meeting EU air quality standards has been challenging for Member States. At present 20 of them are facing court proceedings for failing to comply with ambient air quality limit values. As you will learn later today, reducing emissions from shipping will help to reduce levels of imported particulate matter – not only in coastal regions!

And that is why it is essential that we move on and transpose the IMO rules agreed in 2008 as quickly as possible. They need to be put into EU law now to ensure a strong enforcement mechanism, legal certainty and a level playing field. Some will no doubt question the cost-effectiveness of doing this. And while it is true that the cost of compliance could be high, we have committed ourselves to finding ways to keep them down as much as we can. Alternative compliance routes include the so called "equivalent abatement methods" which, ideally, should also help to address the broader and long-term sustainability challenges.

Returning to the broader picture on air quality, I think that we can be proud of what we have achieved in terms of governance, at European Union, national or urban level, to improve air quality for our citizens. But, as you might expect me to say, the job is not yet finished.

You may have heard that I want to make 2013 the "Year of Air".

For this reason, and at my request, President Barroso invited all the European Commissioners to debate the issue earlier this year.

We all recognised that improving air quality is a pressing need and a shared responsibility. We agreed that we would need to work together, and that we must have decisive short-term measures, such as the one on sulphur discussed today. There was also strong support for a renewed and comprehensive air quality policy, to be launched in 2013, at the latest.

Of course, I intend to work hand in hand with Siim on the implementation of the Transport White Paper and improving the environmental footprint of all modes of transport, including maritime transport. Mobility is important for me, and I know that protecting the environment is important for Siim. That is exactly a kind of understanding and cooperation we should nurture and deepen in the future. Economic, social and environmental considerations going hand in hand, promoting the same sustainable future and quality of our life, your life.


Ladies and Gentlemen

I have spoken at some length about what I want to do… I invite all of you to contribute actively to further improving air quality in the EU, through smart and cost-effective measures, including technologies.

As I said at the beginning, moving swiftly on revising the Sulphur Directive is something we have to do and it is not enough on its own. But it is an important milestone - and a big challenge for the industry.

I would like to assure you that I am aware of this challenge. That is also why I fully support the need to help the industry to make this step change and to assist it in the transition. This is why I would like to see innovation being used more to get the necessary technologies on line. This is why I would invite the industry to think creatively about the cost-effective compliance strategies with the future objectives in mind.

We need certainty for everyone in the shipping business. Uncertainty would cost us dearly in terms of time and compliance.

I thank you for your attention and wish you a very fruitful meeting.

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