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EU’s dirtiest ports ‘comparable to the biggest coal plants’

Green group Transport & Environment says investments in clean port infrastructure remain low, with few credible plans to provide clean fuel to highly polluting ships

Emissions from the supply chains of the EU’s three biggest ports — Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg — are higher than those of an average coal-fired power plant, according to an analysis

SUPPLY-chain emissions from Europe’s biggest ports are comparable with those of coal-fired power plants, according to a study by Transport & Environment.

The green group analysed carbon dioxide emissions of European Union ports by calculating emissions by ship type and allocating them to ports by how much cargo related to that ship type was handled. It sought to include emissions from port activities such as loading, unloading and refuelling.

It found the top 10 most polluting ports were: Rotterdam (13.7m tonnes); Antwerp (7.4m); Hamburg (4.7m); Algeciras (3.3m); Barcelona (2.8m); Piraeus (2.7m); Valencia (2.7m); Bremerhaven (2.3m); Marseille (2.3m); Amsterdam (2.1m).

Rotterdam’s associated supply chain, or Scope 3, emissions put it on par with the Weisweiler coal power plant in Germany, Europe’s fifth-biggest industrial polluter, according to the research.

T&E sustainable shipping officer Jacob Armstrong said ports’ climate impact was enormous.

“Yet instead of getting behind proposals to clean up shipping, like comprehensive port electrification and mandates for green fuels, ports simply aren’t doing enough to clean up the sector,” he said.

Mr Armstrong called on ports to install hydrogen-based refuelling infrastructure and shore power so ships could turn their engines off while in port, adding that this would improve health by cutting air pollution.

He said in an interview that responsibility for decarbonisation was shared between all maritime players, including shipping companies, ports, governments, and fuel suppliers.

“Ports have an important political role, and need to couple that leverage with the urgency the climate crisis demands,” he said. “That means supporting ambitious port electrification targets, scrapping the LNG mandate — which will only result in stranded assets for them — and supporting a soft mandate for hydrogen and ammonia infrastructure, where the obligation depends on whether the port can find a business case.”

The study's figures, from 2018 data, came from the EU’s monitoring, reporting and verification system and so did not include emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) or sulphur dioxide (SOx).

The European Commission, which drafts EU policies, has proposed a deadline of 2030 for ports to install shore power — also called cold ironing — to containers, passengerships and cruiseships.

But the current FuelEU Maritime proposal has exemptions for certain ships and excludes oil tankers and bulk carriers. It would exempt some 5m tonnes of CO2 and 3,000 tonnes of SOx per year, equivalent to the emissions of 250m passenger cars, T&E said.

The group called on the European Parliament and EU Council, which are hashing out the detail of FuelEU Maritime, to mandate shore power at all passenger terminals from 2025, and from containerships, tankers, and refrigerated bulk carriers by 2030, and all remaining terminals by 2035.

European Sea Ports Organisation secretary-general Isabelle Ryckbost said ports’ associated CO2 emissions reflected their economic activity and not all emissions from that activity should be attributed to them.

She told Lloyd’s List she was surprised at the accusing tone of the T&E report.

“We have always been pleading for the greening of the shipping sector,” she said.

Ms Ryckbost said ports were preparing to provide more shore power, but this was one change among many needed to reduce emissions.

She said the rules should help ports install power where it would be most used at first, instead of at every quay and terminal. They should also require ships to use the power when it was installed, she added.

Ms Ryckbost said installing shore power was expensive, time-consuming, and lacked a business case.

“Thinking that it’s just a plug on the quayside like you put in your kitchen — it’s wrong,” she said.

A British Ports Association report found the high capital cost of installing shore power was the biggest barrier to its uptake, alongside the price of electricity and lack of consistent demand from vessels.

Last September, the director of the UK’s second-biggest container port spoke of the difficulty ports faced in going green.

Associated British Ports director Alastair Welch said getting enough power to cold iron one cruiseship at the port of Southampton had meant taking over that city’s biggest industrial site as well as cobbling together other power sources.

Finding enough power to run multiple ships at the same time would require much more government investment and cover just a tiny part of a ship’s overall CO2 emissions, Mr Welch said.

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