The maritime industry would be required to slash sulfur dioxide emissions by up to 90 percent at a cost of $3.6 billion to $15.6 billion, under a proposal unveiled by the European Commission on Friday.
The proposal calls for an 80 percent reduction in fine particle emissions. Starting in 2015, the maximum permissible sulfur content in maritime fuels used in sensitive areas such as the Baltic Sea and the North Sea would drop from 1.5 percent to 0.1 percent.
The maximum sulfur content in other areas would decline to 0.5 percent from 4.5 percent starting in 2020. Ships would be allowed to use technologies such as exhaust gas cleaning systems as an alternative to using low-sulfur fuels.
Heavy fuels, typically used by ships, have sulfur content of up to 5 percent.
Sulfur dioxide emissions cause acid rain and generate fine dust, which causes human respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
The proposal, which incorporates new International Maritime Organization standards, requires approval from the European Parliament and European Union member states.