Europe’s first environmental impact assessment for the shipping industry shows the challenge it faces in reaching the goal of climate neutrality by the middle of the century.
The maritime sector makes up about 14% of greenhouse-gas emissions from transport within the European Union — more than previously estimated — making it the third-biggest emitter behind road vehicles, which account for 71%, and just behind aviation, according to a report by the European Environment Agency and the European Maritime Safety Agency.
With EU shipping forecast to more than double by 2050 from 2005 levels, current proposals to curb the fossil-fuel pollution blamed for global warming may not be enough to bring the industry in line with the bloc’s goal to be climate neutral by 2050. Member states need to reduce transport emissions by 90% in order to achieve that target. Other issues highlighted by the report concern air pollution and underwater noise that can affect marine life.
“Maritime transport is expected to increase in the coming years and unless we act now, the sector will produce more and more greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants and underwater noise,” said Virginijus Sinkevicius, European Commissioner for Environment. “A smooth but rapid transition of the sector is crucial to meet the objectives of the European Green Deal and move toward carbon neutrality.”
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, has proposed to include shipping within its Emissions Trading System that will require shippers to buy permits for their CO2 output. It also plans a FuelEU Maritime initiative that aims to boost the uptake of sustainable fuels by ratcheting up yearly reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions from 2% beginning in 2025 to 75% by 2050.
While the report does not provide an assessment of those proposals, which still have to be approved by member states and the European Parliament, it does provide an overview of potential alternatives to traditional fossil fuels such as hydrogen and biofuel. The analysis shows that most ships calling into the EU have reduced their speed by 20% compared to 2008, helping to cut emissions.