The European Parliament voted to officially approve the legislation in September.
The Council of the European Union said in a press release Monday it is backing the adoption of new marine fuel standards that will align it with International Maritime Organisation (IMO) guidelines within the region.
The European Parliament in September voted to officially approve the legislation, and today's developments are the final step before official publication of the law.
The new rules mean by 2020 there will be a 0.50% limit on the sulfur content of marine fuels used in EU waters by all vessels, passenger ships or otherwise.
Until then, the current regime of a 1.50% limit applies for passenger ships operating outside of Europe's Emissions Control Area (ECA), and within the ECA the limit of 1.0% is in effect until the January 1, 2015 introduction of a 0.10% sulfur limit.
Council of the European Union
the new requirements could have negative effects on the competitiveness of the industry
Council acknowledged the new requirements "could have negative effects on the competitiveness of the industry and could produce a modal shift from sea to land," but this could be mitigated by member states providing support to operators in accordance with the applicable state aid rules.
The amendment to directive 1999/32/EC will "considerably" reduce sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, the statement said, as well as "provide a high level of protection for human health and the environment."
Environmental campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) welcomed the news, but say more is needed.
"Today's council decision on sulfur dioxide in marine fuels is an encouraging first step to clean up shipping emissions to air that cause 50,000 premature deaths every year in Europe," Antoine Kedzierski, a member of T&E's policy team said.
"When it comes to air pollution, the EU should follow the USA and Canada by making the entire EU coastline a low-SO2 and low-NOx zone."
Ship & Bunker reported yesterday that the August 1, 2012 introduction of the North American ECA is being blamed for a significant downturn in bunkering operations at the UK's Port of Falmouth.