Ports drive green policies in Europe

Isabelle Ryckbost Isabelle Ryckbost. Image: ESPO

European ports are a strategic partner in achieving Europe’s climate and environmental goals, says ESPO Secretary General Isabelle Ryckbost

Between 23 and 26 May, the citizens of 28 EU Member States cast their votes in the European elections. For policy organisations like the European Sea Ports Organisation, the
European Elections are an ideal moment to reflect and set priorities both for ourselves and for the incoming European policy makers.

We presented a memorandum during our annual conference in Livorno on 23 May, to explain to new policy makers how European ports can be a strategic partner in achieving Europe’s goals, in particular in terms of digitalisation and decarbonisation.

In the first place, we want policy makers to understand the complex role of ports as entry gates for trade, being at the crossroads of supply chains – hotspots of energy, industry, innovation and digitalisation. Moreover we want to emphasise that more than ever, ports in Europe are ‘hybrid’.

A wider role for ports

Over the last decades, encouraged by the EU, almost all ports have developed their governance model towards being more commercially driven and being more financially autonomous. At the same time, more than before, port managing bodies take up – or are asked to take up – wider societal responsibilities.

They need to invest accordingly in projects that serve wider environmental imperatives, even if there is no direct return on investment for the port and even if the port itself is not itself responsible for the environmental problems.

Port managing bodies understand these responsibilities and are happy to engage. However, they ask policy makers to understand the difficulties they face as they try to be competitive and commercial on the one hand and to serve the wider public responsibilities like a public entity on the other hand.

With this in mind, the memorandum outlines a series of priorities and recommendations for the next five years. Let me highlight those that touch on environment and sustainability.
Decarbonisation, of course, comes first on this list. Ports are directly feeling the impact of extreme weather conditions; on average, 40% of the commodities going through European ports are sources of energy; being at the crossroad of transport and supply chains, clustering industry and energy, ports are places where lots of CO2 sources come together.

European ports therefore ask policy makers to support investments that implement the decarbonisation strategy of the port as well as investments aiming at enhancing the resilience of the port to climate change. We further want policy makers to recognise that ports can really be a spider in the web for guiding Europe’s economy through the energy transition. We also hope that the target for shipping set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2018 will be followed up as soon as possible by concrete emission reduction measures for shipping.

Measures requiring ports to invest in clean fuel facilities should come with corresponding obligations for the users. However, stimulating new technologies should not lead to strict
legislation hampering the sector from adapting to ongoing technological innovation. We are conscious that our decarbonisation targets might need to be assessed in the light of the outcome of the discussion on the EU 2050 long-term strategy for a climate-neutral economy.

A second important priority is air pollution. ESPO’s environmental reports have shown that over the last four years, air quality has been the number 1 environmental priority for
Europe’s port managing bodies. More than 90% of European ports are urban or close to an urban area. Air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk in Europe, causing around 400 000 premature deaths per year. Ports cannot ignore the call for cleaner air, regardless of who is responsible.

To address this major concern and to safeguard the public acceptance of port activity in the years to come, we ask for a gradual but mandatory transition plan to cleaner fuels for shipping. Such a plan should deliver both on air quality and carbon savings.

We also ask European policy makers to start the discussion on an EU-wide Emission Control Area in close cooperation with all stakeholders. In addition, we want the new Commission to take away the current disadvantage for the use of onshore power supply (OPS), by providing OPS with the tax exemption that currently applies for electricity generated onboard of vessels.

Finally, we express our support for the EU proposal to the IMO to take prompt and harmonised action with regard to the impact of liquid discharges from scrubbers on water quality.



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