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News: The Mediterranean ECA

13 September 2019

The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean (commonly referred to as the 'Barcelona Convention') was adopted with the aim of reducing pollution and protecting the marine environment in the Mediterranean Sea. The convention now has 22 contracting parties, all of whom have committed to take measures to assess and reduce pollution from ships travelling through the area.
In particular, several parties to the Barcelona Convention have supported the idea of creating an emission control area (or 'ECA') in the Mediterranean Sea. As the world's fifth ECA, this would impose further restrictions on the permissible sulphur emissions from ships sailing through the area, setting the limit for sulphur at 0.1% as opposed to the soon to be in force global cap of 0.5%. If put in place this area would effect a large percentage of global shipping, as an estimated one third of the world's merchant fleet crossing the Mediterranean Sea each year. 
France, for example, has published an impact assessment of the Mediterranean ECA at the beginning of 2019 which estimates that sulphur emissions could be reduced by up to 80% in certain areas. The report points out potential benefits to coastal ecosystems, the health of local residents (an estimated 50,000 Europeans die prematurely each year from air pollution caused by ships) and also lists potential benefits to local economies.
Ultimately the creation of any ECA will require a consensus between all states bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Some states may be concerned that imposing stricter limits on sulphur emissions will deter ships from calling at their ports, reducing their income from maritime trade. Some may also have concerns about the EU attempting to influence the policing of these limits, a function which is currently delegated to individual port states.