Working Paper

From concept to impact: Evaluating the potential for emissions reduction in the proposed North Atlantic Emission Control Area under different compliance scenarios

This study assesses the potential for reducing emissions from ships in the North Atlantic Ocean by designating the region an Emission Control Area. The North Atlantic Emission Control Area (AtlECA) would impose stricter regulations aimed at reducing emissions of sulfur oxides (SOx), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and nitrogen oxides (NOx).  

The possible AtlECA includes the territorial seas and exclusive economic zones of Spain, Portugal, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland, with potential expansion to include the Azores and Madeira archipelagos of Portugal and the Canary Islands of Spain. The results of this study are intended to be a part of a submission to the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee on designating the AtlECA, following the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI requirements. 

We estimate that the AtlECA designation could lead to significant emission reductions in pollutants. In 2030, if distillate fuel is used to comply with the ECA regulations, this could lead to an 82% reduction in SOx emissions, a 64% reduction in PM2.5, and a 36% reduction in black carbon (BC) emissions when compared to a scenario without ECA regulations. NOx regulation Tier III standards can reduce expected NOx emissions by about 3% if they apply only to ships built in 2027 or later. Up to 71% NOx reductions could be achieved by applying Tier III standards to engines on all ships.  

Additionally, we project that if the outermost regions of Portugal and Spain join the AtlECA, air pollution near these islands could be significantly reduced. The projected reductions include 84% in SOx, 67% in PM2.5, and 41% in BC emissions if distillate is used as the compliance fuel.  

Based on this analysis, we suggest the Atlantic ECA member states consider the following recommendations: 

  • Include the full exclusive economic zones of Spain, Portugal, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, Faroe Islands, and Greenland in the geographic scope of the AtlECA. This would strategically connect the surrounding established or proposed ECAs, creating the largest low-emission shipping zone in the world.  
  • Consider including the outermost regions of Portugal (Azores and Madeira) and Spain (Canary Islands) in the geographic scope of the AtlECA. Our analysis shows that 94% of the traffic crossing these islands is already shipping in other existing or proposed Emission Control Areas.  
  • Incentivize the use of distillates over ultra-low sulfur fuel oil (ULSFO) or scrubbers for ECA compliance in the national waters of AtlECA member states.  
  • Consider restricting the use of scrubbers in the national waters and ports of AtlECA member states to reduce BC and PM and to avoid scrubber discharges.  
  • Consider supporting Norway’s suggestion to amend MARPOL to use the “three dates criteria” for the designation of newly built ships subject to Tier III NOx emission standards. 

[Infographic] North Atlantic Emission Control Area

Clean air Fuels
Emissions control Emissions modeling