Port and shipping decarbonisation

By Jutta Paulus, MEP, (pictured)
Winter 2022

Jutta Paulus, MEPAfter the latest UN climate conference COP27, our planet remains on track for a global heating of at least 2.4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Expectations for this COP27 were low from the beginning. Nevertheless, it was shocking that the goal set by the Paris Agreement on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius was put on the negotiation table in Sharm el-Sheikh, especially as the consequences of the climate crisis are getting more and more visible.

At 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial climate, Europe experienced the third warmest summer ever recorded with extreme droughts and fires, in Pakistan, unprecedented flooding took the life of around 1700 people and made millions homeless, tornadoes occurred in France, Great Britain and Germany. In the end, the reference to 1.5 degrees could be saved in the final agreement of Sharm el-Sheikh. However, implementation of policies achieving this goal, is what counts, and every country, every sector must contribute their fair share. This is especially true for the maritime sector.

The maritime sector so far remained widely unregulated concerning climate action, with international shipping being currently the only transport sector not being subject to any binding climate legislation although it causes more greenhouse gas emissions than any single EU Member State. If shipping were a country, it would be the country with the sixth highest greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, responsible for around 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) estimates that global emissions from ships will increase by 90 to 130 percent between 2008 and 2050. For ships calling at ports in the European Economic Area, the EU Commission expects an increase of 86 percent compared to 1990. Hardly any other industrial or transport sector shows such high emission increases.

Nevertheless, efforts at the IMO for introducing greenhouse gas reduction targets repeatedly failed. The EU and US thus changed their approach and now aim to introduce respectively supranational and national measures to bring down emissions caused by ships.

By amending the so-called MRV Shipping Regulation, an EU law on the monitoring, reporting and validation of CO2 emissions in maritime transport, I introduced, as the European Parliament’s rapporteur, measures that went beyond merely monitoring and counting CO2 emission to actually reducing greenhouse gases in the shipping sector. This included the proposal to include the shipping sector into the European Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). On 29. November, European Parliament and the Council of Member States reached an agreement on the conditions of this inclusion. All intra- EU voyages and half of outgoing and incoming journeys will be subject to carbon pricing not only for CO2 emissions but also for methane and nitrous oxide, which is especially important regarding the future use of alternative fuels in shipping. Making polluters pay is indispensable but will not suffice to reduce emissions in the sector. Especially huge container ships cannot just be electrified, so research and development of alternative fuels will be essential for the transition of this industry. The Fuel EU Maritime law which is currently negotiated could have been an opportunity to steer shipping on the course of climate neutrality. But a majority in the European Parliament adopted a position that is not compatible with EU climate goals. A greenhouse gas reduction target of 100 per cent by 2050 and ambitious quotas for renewable fuels of non-biological origin are needed to set the sails towards a fully climate neutral shipping sector. Biofuels only will not be able to cover demand of shipping and aviation, both sectors being reliant on fuels with high energy density. But as arable land on the planet is limited, we must foster solutions that use this scarce resource in the most efficient way: the same landmass where we can harvest one energy unit of biofuels is able to produce 40 units of solar energy and even 100 units of wind energy – without needing fertile soil. So even taking into account conversion losses, it is obvious that synthetic renewable fuels are the only solution that is able to cover future demand.

Emissions caused by shipping are not only harmful to the global climate, but also cause environmental pollution. With regard to the health of citizens living in port cities and workers, "zero emission ports" must become the standard. Particulate matter and nitrogen oxide are responsible for more than 400.000 premature deaths in the EU, and while cars have become cleaner due to EU standards, considerably lowering urban pollution, shipping is still steaming below the radar of emission regulation. Only for sulphur oxides, limit values have been set - after decades of discussions. Investments into shore-side electricity or batteries will enable zero emission ships at berth.

At the COP27, I have had numerous discussions with stakeholders from politics, civil society and business about decarbonising the shipping sector. There is a lot of movement at the EU level, but also in the US, where a clean shipping bill has been introduced in Congress. These initiatives can finally mobilise investment in modern technologies for wind utilization and synthetic fuels for the sector. Aiming for a maximum global warming if 1.5 degrees Celsius is not negotiable and must stay our priority. This is our responsibility for future generations. Shipping must contribute its fair share, but it is up to law makers to support and steer the sector.