EnviSuM - Assessing the impacts of SECA in the Baltic Sea Region


Winter 2018

"AIR POLLUTION IS THE NEW TOBACCO" according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in the first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health (October 2018), calling the attention of all countries to work towards meeting WHO global air quality guidelines. The call goes aligned with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) plans to ban the use of high sulfur fuel in the global shipping fleet by 2020 by forcing vessels to either use cleaner fuel with a lower sulfur content or install an exhaust gas cleaning system onboard. Meanwhile, the Baltic Sea Region (BSR) has already been benefiting of better air quality since the Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECA) entered into force in 2015. EnviSuM project results reveal the significant decrease of SOx from ship emissions, the impact of the shipping emission on air quality & human health, levels of compliance and the economics effects within SECA in the BSR.

Since 2015, all the ships navigating the North European SECA (Baltic Sea, North Sea and English Channel) are obliged to comply with the limit of maximum sulfur content of 0.1% in ships fuel. Before the regulation entered into force, the shipping sector sparked criticism claims against it, fearing huge economic losses due to increasing costs and a modal shift from ocean freight to road.

Three years later, the results from EnviSuM shows the economic impacts of SECA are so far negligible in the BSR. Benefits surpasses costs overall. Also, results shows no statistical evidence for modal shift from sea transport to other modes and no evidence of transfer of supply chains outside the SECA zone. In addition, SECA has created markets for emission abatement technologies and motivated investments in cleaner fuels.

EnviSuM results show a significant decrease of SOx (-88%) and particulate matter (PM, -36%) emissions in the BSR due to SECA. By 2030, BSR is expected to benefit even more from better air quality since emissions will continue to decrease. Absolute nitrogen oxides (NOx) and PM impacts will also be reduced.

Among all the benefits of SECA, perhaps the most valuable is the impact on human health, considering exposure to ship emissions damages human health - especially cardiovascular and respiratory system diseases. While assessing the exposure to particulate air pollution from shipping in the Baltic Sea, in countries bordering the Baltic Sea, results shows a decrease from 1544 to 1019 in premature deaths.

EnviSuM has also been tracking the sulfur fuel content of ships exhaust gases in the BSR in the scope of compliance. Results show the Middle Baltic Sea with the highest level of non-compliance. Good compliance near the ports Gothenburg and Gdansk (99%) and less in Saint Petersburg (95%), where 2% were gross emitters.

Altogether, emissions regulations have been a game changer to the shipping industry. The BSR has a long history of cooperation to improve its environmental status, which has stimulated clean tech knowhow and innovations. Significant SECA impacts were attributed to innovation and reputation of BSR, which benefits from the opportunity to be on the forefront in clean shipping worldwide.


The EnviSuM team is an international and multidisciplinary consortium of University of Turku (lead partner), Finnish Meteorological Institute, Chalmers University of Technology, Maritime Development Center, Norwegian Meteorological Institute, Maritime University of Szczecin, Tallinn University of Technology, City of Gothenburg, University of Gothenburg, Baltic Marine Consult, HELCOM and 17 associated partners. EnviSuM is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and co-financed by the Interreg Baltic Sea Region.