Like the rest of the transport sector, operators in our shipping industry - whether at sea or on land - are still assessing the damage wreaked by the Coronavirus pandemic and are working hard to get back on their feet. Shipping transports some 75 percent of EU trade, illustrating the sector’s importance for the entire European economy.
Getting the sector back on its feet is among our top priorities. People are often surprised when I point out that 60 percent of cargo handled in Europe’s major ports originates from short-sea operations. This makes maritime transport a vital cog in the functioning of the EU’s internal market, which is key to our overall economic recovery.
But the sector faces challenges, and its economic recovery is not the only one. Shipping is the most energy-efficient option - and, in many cases, the only means - for transporting large quantities of cargo. But there is still room for improvement. Environmental challenges include air pollution in ports and coastal areas, water pollution, and increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Keeping our people and planet healthy is the fundamental challenge of our times. Living up to this responsibility, we need to accelerate our transition to a low-emission, climate-neutral economy, and all sectors need to contribute. Shipping is no exception, and we have clearly indicated so through our European Green Deal.
For such a global sector, change cannot be pursued in isolation, and we must engage internationally. But European companies control 32 percent of the world’s fleet, so the EU cannot deny its own responsibility in driving and supporting moves towards greater sustainability.
“The FuelEU Maritime initiative, which I will present before the end of the year, will seek to ensure solid demand in the market, avoiding carbon leakage, and providing certainty on the pathways to reducing maritime GHG emissions through cleaner fuels being used by ships trading in and with Europe”
I am pleased to say that Europe has already been leading the way. We have spearheaded lowering the sulphur content of marine fuels in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the results have been impressive. We can be proud and, with the global sulphur standard now applicable around the world, people and seas, in Europe and beyond, will further benefit from these efforts.
We also need to reduce the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions - another area where we have been leading international efforts. In 2018, and thanks to coordinated EU action, the IMO agreed on the first-ever sectoral GHG emissions reduction target at global level.
The objective - a 50 percent reduction by 2050 - may be lower than our original ambition, but it was a solid first step. We now need to deliver tangible emissions reduction measures and lower emission levels in a sector that continues to grow in sync with the global economy.
Given the sector’s diversity and the technical and operational specificities, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution is not feasible. Instead, we need a basket of measures, that address both the energy efficiency of shipping and the fuels they use. We therefore need to work on several fronts.
We are looking to incentivise carbon-neutral technologies, and alternative propulsion to turn our ambitions into reality. We also need instruments to facilitate and accelerate the uptake of such low-emission solutions and practices, including through price signals.
Emissions must have a price, and that price must be paid by those who pollute. However, we must also recognise the significant investments required, including from private funds. So, we need to provide legal clarity and reassurances that investments will be needed long-term. This is also true for our push towards alternative fuels.
The FuelEU Maritime initiative, which I will present before the end of the year, will seek to ensure solid demand in the market, avoiding carbon leakage, and providing certainty on the pathways to reducing maritime GHG emissions through cleaner fuels being used by ships trading in and with Europe.
It sounds a no brainer but is not an easy task to achieve. We need the fuels to be available for maritime use, we need for them to be operated safely, and we need the financing to support investments in them, both on-board ships and onshore.
Therefore, we must also equip ports for their key role in decarbonisation. They are central to providing the right infrastructure to supply sustainable alternative fuels and onshore power to ships at berth, to replace heavy fuel oil. And we need to think beyond the vessels themselves - how can we green and increase the efficiency of operations in ports, such as electrification of cranes and other equipment.
Digitalisation is important for simplifying administration, lowering costs and ensuring better resource and infrastructure use. It will also help make our ports more resilient: the Coronavirus crisis taught us the importance of this.
“Shipping transports some 75 percent of EU trade, illustrating the sector’s importance for the entire European economy. Getting the sector back on its feet is among our top priorities”
Similarly, further digitalisation on board ships will help operations, improve the efficiency of sea-shore communications and increase the attractiveness of the maritime profession to young people.
Our upcoming Strategy for smart and sustainable mobility will put forward a vision of how to achieve this in the years to come. The maritime sector kept the global economy going when much of the world was locked down earlier this year. The sector now needs our support.
As Commissioner for Transport, I stand committed to delivering solutions that will help the sector become more resilient in the face of future shocks - both known and unknown. Increased sustainability will fortify this resilience. We are in a strong position to lead the transition.
We have a wealth of experience and a strong maritime cluster to help us lead by example. It is therefore with confidence that I say that Europe will continue setting the course for sustainable shipping.