By the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) reckoning, some 5.5 million barrels of oil — 6% of world demand — get burned daily as bunker fuel on the high seas. Those bunkers are the world’s last big sink for high sulfur residual fuel oil (HSFO), the "bottom of the barrel,” as air-emission rules for ships have to date remained relatively loose. Tighter sulfur regulations may soon change that, with far-reaching impacts for the shipping industry, energy markets and air emissions from ships.
On February 8, 2016, the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia SIPA, in partnership with Axelrod Energy Projects and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), hosted a roundtable with Dr. Edmund Hughes, head of air pollution and energy efficiency at the IMO, to discuss the new rules. During the discussion Dr. Hughes said that the IMO may decide by October 2016 – sooner than a previously set deadline of end-2018 — whether to maintain a January 2020 target date for implementation of the new standard, or postpone it by up to five years. Participants discussed the various paths to compliance with the rules and the challenge of enforcement on the high seas. This Dialogue Report report provides a summary of the roundtable discussion.