Phasing out coal

Chloe Farand
Chloe Farand
Only 15% of coal which enters Rotterdam is destined to the Netherlands and 85% is forwarded on to Germany Photo: Luke Price/Flickr
Only 15% of coal which enters Rotterdam is destined to the Netherlands and 85% is forwarded on to Germany Photo: Luke Price/Flickr
With 28.4 million tonnes of coal transiting through its docks last year, the Port of Rotterdam has become a global enabler for coal consumption Photo: Luke Price/Flickr
With 28.4 million tonnes of coal transiting through its docks last year, the Port of Rotterdam has become a global enabler for coal consumption Photo: Luke Price/Flickr
Industry Database

As 2017 comes to a close, the world has never been so ambitious to phase-out coal, writes Chloe Farand.

At the UN climate talks in Bonn, a UK-Canada led alliance committed to keep coal in the ground galvanised attention while Donald Trump delegation’s efforts to promote “clean coal” was met with ridicule.

Joining a host of announcements about coal phase-out, Rotterdam Council voted on a resolution to end the storage and transport of coal through its port in line with the Dutch government’s commitment to close all coal plants by 2030.

Although the vote was only indicative of Rotterdam Council’s vision for the future of the port, it sent a clear signal to the port authority that ittoo will have to do their fair share to end the burning of fossil fuel and limit global temperature rise.

Rotterdam is at the heart of coal transhipment in Europe and home to EMO, the largest coal terminal in Western Europe with a throughput capacity of about 200,000 tonnes per day. Rotterdam councillors also expressed their preference for the port not to renew the transhipment company’s 25-year licence which they said would not be compatible with meeting the Paris Agreement goals.

But with 28.4 million tonnes of coal transiting through its docks last year, the Port of Rotterdam has become a global enabler for coal consumption, fuelling Germany’s coal addiction and bolstering its steel industry. Only 15% of coal which enters Rotterdam is destined to the Netherlands and 85% is forwarded on to Germany.

Strategy change

For Sjaak Poppe, spokesperson for the Rotterdam Port Authority, it is not for the port to decide to end the transport of coal and as long as the fossil fuel is part of the Dutch and German energy strategy then the port will continue to handle coal cargoes as smoothly as possible.

“If we in Rotterdam don’t ship coal then the cargoes will be shipped through other ports and hundreds of jobs will be lost,” he says.

But while a global and national policy framework to phase-out coal is desperately needed if we are to meet the Paris Agreement targets, local and private actors should also have their part to play.

The port authority states it fully endorses the Paris Agreement and is working to reduce its own CO2 emissions. But while coal does not emit more carbon than other goods when in transit through Rotterdam, reducing the number of coal cargoes is not an option on the table.

And with steel one of the most difficult industries to decarbonise, Mr Poppe believes coal shipment to Germany will still mean business for the port for years to come.

Decreasing emissions

The Port of Rotterdam yet has a number of initiatives to decrease its own emissions with at its heart Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. This includes plans for a pipeline to go through the 40-kilometre length of the port and channel CO2 into a depleted gas field in the North Sea where it can be stored.

Mr Poppe said the initiative could see the port reduce its emissions by up to five million tonnes of CO2 by 2030 and a feasibility study in partnership with Gasunie and EBN is expected to be released at the end of January 2018.

While the initiative will be a step forward in the right direction, the port authority cannot ignore the role it is playing in creating an easy way in for coal to flood Europe’s energy market. In the journey to coal phase-out, the voices of Rotterdam councillors should not be ignored but heard as an alarm bell.

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