Sulphur Regulations for Shipping – Why a Regional Approach?: Scientific and Economic Arguments in IMO Documents 1988-1997

University dissertation from Chalmers University of Technology

Abstract: Some environmental issues for shipping are regulated globally with uniform standards and others with stricter regulations in specific areas. This thesis aims to provide an understanding of why a regional approach was chosen with SOx Emission Control Areas (SECAs) as the main form of control of sulphur oxide emissions from international shipping, with explanations based on documents from negotiations within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) during 1988-1997. The documents were investigated in search of scientific and economic arguments (including supportive information and reported discussions). These were analysed through two ‘conceptual lenses’ to provide different explanations, focusing on the roles of science and economic interests. These lenses were expected to show many explanatory differences, but significant interactions were found. It was found that the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO faced great scientific uncertainty on ship emissions and their contribution to acidification on land. This allowed for an increased role of economic interests, in particular when the Sub-Committee on Bulk Chemicals Handling began drafting regulations for Annex VI to the MARPOL Convention. The actors’ interests decided the policy relevance of science, which was used by the environmental and economic interests to compete rather than to enable consensus. Based on the economic interests of the actors that caused the problem and that would bear the costs of regulation, a science-critical policy environment emerged in which these actors showed as low a contribution as possible to acidification from shipping and extreme economic implications. The focus on the high costs for the oil industry and, in turn, higher fuel costs for shipping, was found to be the primary factor in explaining the regional approach. It was emphasized that economic self-interests are paramount in understanding both the economic and the scientific arguments and the way these could shape policy-making through the power of persuasion. Scientific arguments and claims were used to justify views with underlying economic arguments, which were strengthened with legitimacy. The IMO principles of a compelling need and taking into account costs and economic implications were the primary causes of the cost focus and the critical policy environment. This is a lesson for future policy issues in terms of achieving a balance between industry interests and environmental interests. This thesis’ empirical contribution is based on a large quantity of documents that revealed the scientific and economic basis of different actors’ policies and the policy choices and decisions made by two bodies of the IMO. It contributes theoretically by viewing an international environmental policy-making process through different conceptual lenses. In order to understand why policy-makers in some cases follow the path of environmental protection based on scientific claims and in others follow the path of economic self-interests, we need to take into account both with different conceptual lenses.