first environmental impact report recognizes progress towards sustainability and confirms that more effort is needed to prepare for growing demand – European Environment Agency

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With 77% of European external trade and 35% of all trade by value between EU Member States transiting by sea, maritime transport is a key part of the international supply chain. Despite a drop in maritime activity in 2020 Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector is expected to experience strong growth over the coming decades, fueled by growing demand for primary resources and container transport.

In this context, the European maritime transport environmental report, launched today by the European Environment Agency and the European Maritime Safety Agency, marks the industry’s first comprehensive health check. The report shows that ships produce 13.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions transport in the EU, behind emissions from road transport (71%) and aviation (14.4%). Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from ships calling at European ports amounted to around 1.63 million tonnes in 2019, a figure that is expected to decline further in the coming decades due to stricter environmental rules and measures.

Shipping is believed to have contributed to the fact that underwater noise levels in EU waters more than doubled between 2014 and 2019 and are responsible for half of all non-native species introduced into European seas since 1949. However, although the volume of oil transported by sea has steadily increased, only eight medium to large oil tanker spills of a global total of 62 have occurred in EU waters over the past decade.

Joint report assesses the current state of emerging maritime transport sustainability solutions, including alternative fuels, batteries and land-based power supply, and provides a full picture of their adoption in the EU. It also describes future challenges posed by climate change for the industry, including the potential impact of sea level rise on ports.

“Our sustainable and smart mobility strategy makes it clear that all modes of transport must become more sustainable, smarter and more resilient, including maritime transport. Although maritime transport has improved its environmental footprint in recent years, it still faces major challenges in terms of decarbonisation and pollution reduction. Based on the latest evidence, our policies aim to help the sector meet these challenges, making the most of innovative solutions and digital technologies. In this way, maritime transport can continue to grow and meet the daily needs of our citizens, in harmony with the environment, while maintaining its competitiveness and continuing to create quality jobs, ”said Adina Vălean, European Commissioner for Transport.

“This joint report gives us an excellent overview of current and future issues related to maritime transport. The message is clear: maritime transport is expected to increase in the coming years and if we do not act now the sector will produce more and more greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants and underwater noise. . A smooth but rapid transition of the sector is crucial to achieve the objectives of the European Green Deal and progress towards carbon neutrality. It will also create new economic opportunities for the European transport industry as part of the necessary transition to a sustainable blue economy. The challenge is immense, but we have the technologies, the resources and the will to meet it, said Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries.

“Sustainability driven by innovation is an opportunity for shipping to achieve a transformation on the same scale as replacing sails with steam. This new maritime revolution will depend on ships developed through cutting-edge technology and digital solutions, but also on a multi-layered and fully inclusive process at national, European and international levels that encompasses safety, security and social aspects as well as environmental. But the role of maritime transport as a link in a transnational logistics chain is also crucial. This means that every element of this chain – from ports to the shipbuilding sector, from shippers to private and public financial sectors – must be included in our drive towards sustainability, ”said Maja Markovčić Kostelac, Executive Director of EMSA.

“While the European maritime transport sector plays a vital role for our economic well-being, this report clearly shows that maritime transport in Europe and the entire international maritime community have an urgent responsibility to step up their efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of this sector. Although steps have already been taken on the basis of European and international policies, much more is needed for a fundamental shift towards a sustainable maritime transport sector that contributes to ensuring the future well-being and survival of our ecosystems and areas. most sensitive coastal areas, as well as the well-being of Europeans ”, declared Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the EEA.

Main environmental impacts

  • Greenhouse gas emissions: in total, ships calling at ports in the EU and the European Economic Area generated around 140 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2018 (around 18% of all CO emissions2 emissions generated by shipping worldwide that year).
  • Air pollution: In 2019, sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from ships calling at European ports amounted to around 1.63 million tonnes, or around 16% of global SO2 emissions from international shipping.
  • Underwater noise: Ships create noise that can affect marine species in different ways. It is estimated that between 2014 and 2019, the total accumulated underwater radiated sound energy more than doubled in EU waters. Container ships, passenger ships and tankers generate the highest noise energy emissions from the use of propellers.
  • Non-native species: Overall, since 1949, the shipping sector has accounted for the largest proportion of non-native species introduced to seas around the EU – almost 50% of all species, with the highest number found in Mediterranean. A total of 51 species are all classified as having high impact, which means they can affect ecosystems and native species. The report also notes the limited data available to assess the total impact on habitats and species.
  • Oil pollution: out of a total of 18 major accidental oil spills in the world since 2010, only three have been located in the EU (17%); better monitoring, enforcement and awareness help reduce oil pollution events, even though the amount of oil transported by sea has grown steadily over the past 30 years.

Navigate towards sustainability

EU maritime transport faces a crucial decade in transitioning to a more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable sector. Aalready, most ships calling in the EU have reduced their speed by up to 20% compared to 2008, thus also reducing their emissions, according to the report.

In addition, non-traditional fuels and energy sources, such as biofuels, batteries, hydrogen or ammonia, appear as possible alternatives for maritime transport, with the potential to decarbonize the sector and lead to zero emissions. Shore power (where ships turn off their engines and connect to a shore power source when moored in port) can also provide a clean source of power in sea and inland ports.

Link to report and fact sheets

EEA: https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/maritime-transport/

EMSA: http://www.emsa.europa.eu/emter

Press contact

In memory of Irene del Barrio Alvarellos, our colleague who played a decisive role in the elaboration, definition and drafting of this first environmental report on European maritime transport.


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