The ports of the trans-European network for transport are essential to Europe’s growth and jobs. Both the amount of cargo handled in European ports and the size of ships are expected to continue to increase significantly. At the same time the Paris Agreement on climate sent a clear signal and shipping, although not formally covered by the agreement, must also contribute to the decarbonisation efforts. Moreover Europe has taken the lead to reduce the other pollutant emissions from maritime transport with the introduction of regional Emission Control Areas and a proactive stance in the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). The European ports are inevitably to be part of these changes, all the more that climate change and energy transition are full of challenges and opportunities for them: infrastructure must be made climate-proof, the oil and coal traffic declines and new business opportunities emerge with the development of off-shore marine renewable energies. The EU port policy contribute to address these challenges through the newly adopted Port Services Regulation, modern state aid control, support to multimodal and alternative fuel infrastructure and actions to accompany the digitalisation of transport. The Directorate General for Mobility and Transport also created a European Ports Forum in July 2017.
As 75 pct. of all goods to or from the EU are carried by ship, the ports of the trans-European network for transport are essential to Europe’s growth. Every additional one million tonnes of cargo handled in a port create an average of 300 new jobs at local level. The amount of cargo handled in European ports and the size of ships are expected to continue to increase significantly as shown by the last series of order from large European companies to build container vessels of 22,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units – twice the maximum size of 10 year ago.
At the same time the Paris Agreement on climate sent a clear signal. All sectors including shipping, although not formally covered by the agreement, must contribute to the decarbonisation efforts. Europe has also taken the lead to reduce the other pollutant emissions from maritime transport with the introduction of regional Emission Control Areas and a proactive stance in the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). For the first time in October last year, IMO adopted a global cap of sulphur content of marine fuels and agreed to adopt an initial strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships in 2018. The European ports are inevitably to be part of these changes, all the more that climate change and energy transition are full of challenges and opportunities for them: infrastructure must be made climate-proof and the oil and coal traffic will slowly decline while considerable new business opportunities emerge with the development of off-shore marine renewable energies and the circular economy.
The EU port policy seeks to address all these challenges and to turn in a win-win strategy the apparent trade-off between economy, jobs and environment by integrating ports in the internal market, tackling the bottlenecks in port hinterlands and pursuing ambitious EU decarbonisation and air quality goals, ports being often in close proximity to dense urban areas. Technologies that reduce the use of oil improve economic efficiency of ships, while reducing the sectors' environmental footprint. A strong focus on green innovation in the maritime/port sectors will address public health and citizens' concerns but also preserve and strengthen the European lead of the European industry and know-how at global level.
Examples of such innovation can be found in the ability of cranes to store the energy released when lowering a container, or in the use of engine heat in vessels to regulate the temperature on board. Smart port management can also combine measures to reduce emissions, energy consumption and costs by minimising ship idle time,
optimising the land side operations of calls, using digital technologies, developing innovative mobility concepts, renewable energies and the interlinking of power plants and consumer plants to promote efficient use of resources.
The EU port policy contributes to such developments in particular through four initiatives:
1. The Port Services Regulation:
The regulation was adopted in February 2017 after three years of debate in the EP and the Council. It introduces a transparent access to the market of port services and transparent rules on financing and charging. It promotes the charging of environmental costs by explicitly allowing it and asking the Commission to develop guidance to classify the vessels according to their environmental performance. Indeed, although 30 core European ports already apply green charges to use their infrastructure, the study which the Commission published in June indicates that more environmental benefits could be gained by a greater coordination and use of such schemes. The regulation also introduces port governance rules. The later ensures for instance the regular consultation of local stakeholders and communities on issues such as spatial planning and port environmental matters.
2. Modern state aid control:
To facilitate investments in ports, in particular green port infrastructure, the Commission adopted a new General Block Exemption Regulation in May 2017. Member States will not be required any longer to notify to the Commission certain port investments for prior state aid control. The list of infrastructure includes the fixed, mobile or offshore port infrastructure allowing a port to supply vessels with energy sources such as electricity, hydrogen, or Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) which contribute to the decarbonisation of transport and enhance its environmental performance.
3. Multimodal and alternative fuel infrastructure:
The Connecting Europe Facility has awarded €1.1 billion since 2014 to projects to improve rail and inland waterways connexions to ports or to develop alternative fuel facilities in ports such as bunkering for vessels powered by LNG or on-shore power supply for moored vessels. In the latest so-called "Blending Call" closed on 14 July, we received additional proposals which are now being evaluated. The European Investment Banks and the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) also offer valuable opportunities to improve the bankability of projects, for instance the €750 million EFSI Green Shipping Guarantee Programme open for both retrofitting of existing shipping as well as for the construction of new vessels with a green innovation aspect. The various EU programmes are all the more important as they can help Member States to implement the Directive on alternative fuel infrastructure which requires LNG refuelling facilities to be accessible for all the core ports of the trans-European network by 2025. The lack of appropriate infrastructure indeed prevents viable alternative fuels and this chicken and egg problem is a typical market failure that adequate legislation and public funding can redress.
By simplifying reporting and sharing data, maritime transport can become more energy efficient, attractive and easier to integrate in the logistic network. The creation of a genuine European Single Window Environment to digitally integrate all the reporting formalities is therefore high on the European agenda. Digital solutions and automation can also assist the captain navigating the vessel into the port, the terminal operations and more broadly the sharing of data between maritime, terminal, rail, river and intermodal operators using for instance block chain technologies. In Horizon 2020, a call dedicated to smart ports and the port of the future was launched last year. The call has generated proposals for €160 million (10 times the available budget!) which are currently being evaluated.
To facilitate the implementation of the new recently adopted rules on ports and promote good practices on all the above issues, the Directorate General for Mobility and Transport has created a European Ports Forum in July 2017. The forum will be composed of member States representatives and of organisations representing at European level the many stakeholders involved in port activities. We look forward to start working with the forum by the end of the year.
In short, the years to come hold great potential for the ports which are engaged to green their operations and promote more sustainable transport and the ports which are more broadly engaged in the energy transition. These ports will find at European level many opportunities to develop their strategies and disseminate their good practices.
1) The article only reflects the views of the author and not necessarily the ones of the European Commission.