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21st Sep 2021

EU agency: Shipping needs major emissions cuts

  • As shipping activities are expected to grow over the coming decades, so do their associated emissions (Photo: EUobserver)
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Emissions from shipping must be reduced further if Europe wants to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, the European Maritime Safety Agency warned in a report on Wednesday (1 September).

In the EU, maritime transport is responsible for about 13.5 percent of transport emissions, slightly behind aviation (14.4 percent) and far behind road transport (71 percent).

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About 77 percent of external trade and 35 percent of trade among member states is transported by sea.

Although the EU's emissions from domestic navigation have decreased by 26 percent since 1990, they still account for about 16 million tonnes of CO2.

According to the report, this decrease responds to new EU standards related to fleet renewals and energy efficiency introduced in 2003.

Yet, navigation remains a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and other dangerous pollutants to water and air, harmful for terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

"Continued action to reduce its environmental footprint is needed for the sector to play its part in turning Europe into a climate-neutral continent by 2050," reads the report.

It adds that extra efforts are needed toward "meeting our zero pollution ambition and halting and reversing biodiversity loss".

But as shipping activities are expected to grow over the coming decades, so do their associated emissions.

Last year, the UN agency controlling the environmental impact of international maritime transport (IMO) projected an increase of shipping emissions of between 90 percent and 130 percent by 2050 (compared to 2008).

Such growth in emissions would be incompatible with the EU's 2050 climate‑neutrality target, the report warns.

The head of the European Environment Agency, Hans Bruyninckx, said that "the maritime transport in Europe and the entire international shipping community has an urgent responsibility to step up their efforts to reduce this sector's environmental footprint".

"Much more is needed for a fundamental shift towards a sustainable maritime transport sector that contributes to secure the future well-being and survival of our most sensitive ecosystems and coastal areas, and the well-being of Europeans," he added.

Air and water pollution

Additionally, the report points out the negative impact of shipping on the air quality of coastlines, local regions and urban areas where the ports are located.

It warns that nitrogen oxides, one of the main air pollutants caused by navigation, are expected to increase gradually. These particles can cause health conditions for those living in harbours, and cause acid rain.

Water and oil pollution, as well as the introduction of non-indigenous species into EU waters that threaten biodiversity, are also mentioned as key impacts of the shipping industry on the environment.

A total of 112 accidental oil tanker spills (of seven tonnes and over) have been reported in EU waters since 1990.

Over the last decade, eight out of a worldwide total of 62 occurred in EU waters, showing that "the number of oil spills from tankers is marginal in comparison with the global numbers," says the report.

To reduce emissions from maritime transport, Brussels has proposed extending the EU's carbon market (EU Emissions Trading System) to cover maritime shipping to reduce emissions, covering all intra-EU journeys and 50 percent of those going outside the bloc from European ports from 2023.

The proposal will need the agreement of the 27 EU countries plus the European Parliament.

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