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Emissions control in the European Union

The EU accounts for around 15 per cent of world's trade in goods. As a result, EU regulations on emissions can have a significant impact on global shipping.

Air pollution

In 2007, Sulphur Emissions Control Areas (SECAs) were established in the Baltic and North Seas, and from 1 May 2025 the Mediterranean Sea is also included, requiring that ships must use marine fuels with a sulphur content not exceeding 0.10 per cent. The EU Sulphur Directive mandates a similar requirement for ships that berth in EU ports, regardless of the area.

The Baltic and North Seas are also designated NOx Emission Control Areas (NECAs), and all ships constructed after 1 January 2021 need to comply with NOx Tier III requirements when sailing in these areas. 

GHG emissions 

The EU, through the European Climate Law, has set legally binding targets to reduce emissions by 55 per cent in 2030 (relative to 1990) and to become climate-neutral by 2050. The Green Deal is a blueprint of the change required to reach these ambitions, and a key part of this plan is the Fit for 55 legislative package which was proposed in 2021. Two of these legislations, the EU ETS and the FuelEU Maritime, set specific requirements on ships. 

Emissions Trading System (ETS)

The EU has adopted a revision of its Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) which includes shipping from 2024. The EU ETS is an emissions cap-and-trade system whereby a limited number of emissions allowances – the cap – is put on the market and can be traded. The cap is reduced each year, ensuring the EU’s emissions target of a 55 per cent reduction by 2030 (relative to 1990) can be met while becoming climate-neutral by 2050. Ships above 5,000 GT transporting cargo or passengers for commercial purposes in the EU will be required to acquire and surrender emissions allowances for its GHG emissions from 2024 as reported through the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) system. Learn more and watch a video on our EU ETS topic page.

Well-to-wake GHG intensity requirements (FuelEU Maritime)

The FuelEU Maritime regulations set well-to-wake GHG emissions requirements per unit of energy used by the ship. The requirements take effect from 2025, and over time more stringent limits will be set on well-to-wake GHG emissions. The reduction requirement is set relative to the average well-to-wake fuel GHG intensity of the fleet in 2020, starting at a 2 per cent reduction in 2025, increasing to 6 per cent in 2030, and accelerating from 2035 to reach an 80 per cent reduction by 2050. The regulation also allows for compliance across a group of ships, meaning that one ship in the group can over-achieve on the well-to-wake GHG intensity, allowing for the other ships to continue to use fossil fuels.

Port and bunkering infrastructure

To improve local air quality and reduce GHG emissions, many ports are working to offer shore power, and as part of FuelEU Maritime, container and passenger ship are required to use shore power when at berth in European ports from 2030. The revised Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation requires the main EU ports (TEN-T ports) to provide a minimum shore-side electricity supply for oceangoing container ships and oceangoing passenger ships as of January 2030. Member states are also required to provide refuelling points for liquefied methane and develop plans for hydrogen, ammonia and methanol.

DNV INSIGHT: the EU and the IMO

The EU plans to introduce regulations to reduce GHG emissions that exceed IMO requirements in European waters. While some argue that the EU’s proactive approach to combatting climate change will push the IMO to move more decisively, others worry that regionalizing regulations will slow global action. The revised EU ETS includes a clause requiring a review of the EU ETS directive in case the IMO adopts a market-based measure, and in case the IMO has not adopted any measure by 2028, the EU ETS for shipping may be strengthened further.