The desulphurisation of shipping: Past, present and the future under a global cap

Thalis P.V. Zis*, Kevin Cullinane

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


As from January 2020, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is implementing a global 0.5% limit on the sulphur content of fuel, commonly known as the global sulphur cap. This limit is the latest policy in the efforts to reduce sulphur emissions from shipping, following the designation of emission control areas (ECAs) and other regional regulations. In this paper, a literature review is conducted of academic studies that have dealt with issues relating to the reduction of maritime sulphur emissions. Various recurring research themes are identified, spanning the areas of operations research, maritime economics and transport policy. The effects and implications of available compliance options are then analyzed from the perspectives of ship operators, shippers and consumers. Using lessons learned from the enforcement of ECA regulations, this is followed by an appraisal of various potential issues related to the enforcement of these new global regulations. It is found that a homogeneous enforcement regime is required to ensure a level playing field amongst ship operators and that the global sulphur cap may lead to serious market distortion, due to the potential short term rise of fuel prices. The paper concludes with a set of recommendations for future research on sulphur emissions from shipping in the aftermath of the global cap and, looking forward, to its relationship to the IMO strategy on the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) shipping emissions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102316
JournalTransportation Research. Part D: Transport & Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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