Maritime transport. The first report on the environmental impact in the Union

On 1st September 2021, the European Environment Agency and the European Maritime Safety Agency published the European Maritime Transport Environmental Report (EMTER) in order to provide a  comprehensive health-check of the sector.

Besides being a key part of the international supply chain, the maritime transport plays an essential role in the European external trade (77%) and between Member States (35%). Despite a decrease in shipping activity in 2020 due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector is expected to grow strongly over the coming decades, fuelled by the rising demand for primary resources and container shipping. 

More specifically, the report shows that ships account for 13.5% of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the various means of transport in the Union, less than road transport and aviation, which produce 71% and 14.4% respectively. However, due to stricter environmental rules and measures, the agencies believe that sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from ships calling in European ports, which in 2019 amounted to approximately 1.63 million tonnes, is expected to fall further over the coming decades. Furthermore, underwater noise levels doubled between 2014 and 2019 and the volume of oil transported by sea has also been steadily increasing over the last decade, in relation to which, out of a worldwide total of 62 medium and large oil tankers, eight accidental spills occurred in the waters of the Union.

With regard to sustainable development, the report assesses the current state of alternative solutions for shipping, such as biofuels, batteries, hydrogen or ammonia, which have the potential to decarbonise the sector and lead to zero emissions, as well as onshore power supply, where ships shut down their engines and connect to a power source on land while berthed at port.  Finally, the report also outlines the future challenges posed by climate change for the industry, including the potential impact of rising sea levels on ports. 

Esmeralda Dedej