Shared Efforts Towards a Greener Maritime Sector

By Dimitrios Theologitis and Jakob Slot
Winter 2013

As 74% of all goods to or from the EU zone are carried by ship, European ports are essential to the region's economic recovery and growth. In support of this, the impact assessment of the Commission's proposal for a regulation of the port sector - currently in co-decision process in Parliament and the Council - shows that for every additional one million tonnes of cargo handled in a port, an average of 300 new jobs are created in the port and its surrounding area. At the same time, the amount of cargo handled in European ports is expected to grow by 50% by 2030 which would put a strain not only on port capacity but also on the environment.

It is no secret that increased economic activity often has negative external effects on the local environment as well as the climate, and the challenge, therefore, is to strike the right balance between economic development and the promotion of green measures. As much as anywhere, this is the case with ports which are often not just in close proximity to dense urban areas but completely integrated in the city surrounding it, since ports often played a key role in the very prospering and growth of the city in the first place.

Importantly, though, this apparent trade-off between economy and environment is far from inevitable. Technologies that reduce the use of fossil fuels, for example, have the dual impact of promoting economic efficiency of ships, while reducing the sector's environmental footprint. We need, therefore, a strong focus on green innovation within the maritime sector, also in view of long-term competitiveness.

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. Implied here is also the obvious fact, that when we talk about the greening of the maritime transport sector, it is important to look at both the port side and the vessels actually moving the cargo.

This dual approach is aptly illustrated by the current aspirations to move, slowly but surely, to greener vessel fuels, such as LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) or methanol. On the one side, it requires shipping lines to invest in the appropriate equipment, while on the other comprehensive bunkering systems must be installed onshore. The same can be said for other measures such as shore side electricity supply for moored vessels or the efficient and environmentally safe disposal of scrubber residue.

The port sector is - of course - at the centre of our common ambition to move towards greener maritime transport. Therefore, I welcome very much voluntary sector initiatives; for instance the ESPO "Green Ports" effort of publishing guides to best practice solutions to be implemented in the daily operations of ports throughout Europe. This is a very positive step towards more efficient and consistent management of air quality, waste and energy conservation. And I am pleased to note that a number of ports have already embarked on this course towards reducing their environmental impact.

If such initiatives are to be effective, however, it is important that not only the port authority or the managing body of the port is pulling in a greener direction. The port community as a whole - e.g. terminal operators, shipping companies, administrations needs to be behind the project.

With a view to underpin this kind of collaboration, the Commission, in the proposed ports regulation, has included provisions for regular consultation among the many stakeholders of a port. It is the ambition that these consultations will act as forums for, inter alia, the development of a shared green agenda for the port as a whole.

the application of differentiated port charges to promote the development towards greener fleets. Through this instrument, ports can reward shipping lines implementing green technology, ahead of legislation, and encourage operators to opt for energy efficient short sea shipping. Of course, such a scheme will have to be transparent and based on fair and objective criteria, which is why the Commission supports a European or regional approach, especially in order to establish a common categorisation of environmental standards for vessels building on existing work done at international level.

A more concrete regulation on the vessel-side of the maritime sector is the gradual reduction of sulphur content in marine fuel in the SECA areas (Sulphur Emission Control Areas), following from the implementation of the IMO's MARPOL-convention. In order to prepare the sector for the introduction in 2015 of a limit on the sulphur content of 0.1% in the designated areas, the Commission has announced the establishment of the European Sustainable Shipping Forum (ESSF). With the ESSF, the Commission intends to bring together Member States and maritime industry stakeholders in order to exchange best practices and coordinate actions, while providing the opportunity to discuss various issues that may arise as early in the implementation process as possible.

Regarding infrastructure - within ports and for hinterland connections - a landmark was reached with the historic agreement on the TEN-T network and the €26 billion funding through the CEF for transport projects towards 2020. Environmental considerations will play a key role within these programs, both in relation to a transfer of goods to greener transport modes, such as shipping and inland waterways, and to developing and implementing green technologies.

Also, with the new 2014-2020 budget of close to €80 billion for "Horizon 2020", the EU's tool for financing research and innovation, there are plenty of possibilities to promote further the green innovation agenda, including in the ports and maritime sector. Horizon 2020 has the kind of strong focus on bringing together the academic world and industry - theory and practice - that are so essential to the development of new solutions that are environmentally sustainable and economically viable.

The present and the years to come are indeed interesting times that hold great potential for the greening of a sector that is so economically important for Europe. For this to happen, however, a great deal of determination will be needed from all actors involved. The Commission is ready to do its best to promote this development and encourages the Member States and the sector to join this effort.

Dimitrios Theologitis
Head of Unit "Ports and Inland Navigation"
European Mobility Network Directorate
Directorate General for Mobility and Transport
European Commission, DM28 6/88
Tel. +32 2 2995582

Born in Athens, Greece, 1955. Civil Engineer (National Technical University of Athens) specialised in transport - and languages. In the European Commission since 1984. Various Head of Unit posts including Road Safety, Maritime Security, Maritime Transport and, since 2008 Ports and Inland Navigation.

Main domains are the development and implementation of a new European ports policy to promote further growth and the further development of the policy framework to support and optimise the functioning of inland waterway transport.