The shipping industry has agreed to implement a maximum of 0.5% sulphur content in marine fuels by 2020.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) made the decision during a meeting in London this week.
The decision will see a global reduction in the sulphur content of marine fuels from the current 3.5%.
Campaigners claim SO2 (Sulphur Dioxide) emissions cause premature deaths from diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease.
The new measure is expected to reduce these emissions from shipping by 85% compared with today’s levels.
The news has been welcomed by industry and campaigners.
The International Chamber of Shipping said it welcomes the decision as it “will give further impetus to reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions” but added “much more is needed to ensure that compliant fuels are available and smooth implementation by 2020”.
Bill Hemmings, Shipping Director at Transport & Environment said: “This is a landmark decision and we are very pleased that the world has bitten the bullet and is now tackling poisonous sulphuric fuel in 2020. This decision reduces the contribution of shipping to the world’s air pollution impact from about 5% down to 1.5% and will save millions of lives in the coming decades.
“Now the focus should shift towards implementing this decision, which is a big issue since it’s not yet clear who should police ships on the high seas and how.”
Earlier this month, the aviation sector agreed to offset emissions.