Sustainable and digitised European ports

By Inmaculada Rodríguez-Piñero, Member of European Parlament in INTA and TRAN Committees and member of the Council of the port of Valencia (pictured)
Winter 2021

Inmaculada Rodríguez-PiñeroThe European Union has more than 1,400 inland and seaports, 329 of which are part of the trans-European transport network. These infrastructures allow the safe passage of 75% of the EU's external trade and 400 m illion passengers per year.

Climate change and decarbonisation are the big challenges that European ports are facing now.

A competitive and sustainable port means becoming a landing point on land for renewable energy generated offshore and its logistics, playing a key role in the entire life cycle of maritime assets. Access to this energy, led by green hydrogen, will contribute to the greening of port operations and the maritime sector as a whole.

Ports not only play a fundamental role in international connections, but also are economic and industrial centres that generate tens of thousands of jobs. For this reason, the European Union considers that they have a fundamental role to play in the implementation of the European Green Deal, in particular in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and in the fight against the proliferation of plastic waste in our seas and oceans.

In 2019, Directive (EU) 2019/883 on port facilities entered into force, which aims to reduce ship waste discharges at sea and ensure efficient maritime operations in ports to reduce pollution.

From 1 January 2020, the EU limit for sulphur emitted by ships from the combustion of fuel oil was reduced from 3.5 % to 0.5 %. This is a real relief for the cities that host commercial ports and whose air is now cleaner.

However, despite these important measures, we have not yet done enough.

The Sustainable and Intelligent Mobility Strategy, launched last February by the European Commission, proposes a whole raft of measures to combat global warming in the maritime sector, which is responsible for 2.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The European Commission proposes to enact measures for the development of alternative fuels for shipping, the connection of ships to the electricity grid while operating in ports or the digitalisation of processes thanks to the global exchange of data. It also encourages the automation of container management and the connection of port bases to the rail network.

Over the next three years, the European Union will release a huge amount of funds for innovative projects such as Fuel EU Maritime, to boost the demand for renewable fuels; Port of the Future, for innovation in port developments; or iTerminals 4.0, which will implement port solutions with the internet of things.

Undoubtedly, the European Commission has to do much more to support Europe's seaports, by including the ports in the funds that the European Union will release in the coming years. The funding of the Reconstruction and Resilience Facility and the future Connecting Europe Facility Digital programmes, will be crucial to improve port infrastructures and turn them into real poles of clean energy generation and distribution.

With regard to Connecting Europe Facility Digital, it will be necessary to increase the scope and type of projects of common interest in the trans-European transport networks. We are making progress on this in the Mediterranean ports with their rail connection to the Mediterranean Corridor.

Member States and European ports must seize this historic opportunity for decarbonisation. It is essential that ports be connected to the trans-European rail networks. All the containers we move by rail are millions of tonnes of CO2 that we will take out of our atmosphere and will therefore be a step towards global warming.

It is also necessary for the sector to adapt to the European strategy for reducing emissions, but it must do so without losing its international competitiveness. Therefore, the European Green Pact package should include incentives for fleet innovation, fiscal measures to reward those who comply with environmental standards and compensation instruments for mitigating pollution.

Emissions trading (ETS) can be a good tool to facilitate the transition to cleaner shipping, but always taking into account the specificities of the international market. Investing in the fi ght against global warming is an obligation for the industry, but a level playing field must be ensured. The measures should not only apply to European-flagged ships, but to all those working in our ports. To this end, the dialogue and negotiation processes of the International Maritime Organisation must be strengthened.

It is essential that ports commit to large batteries powered by renewable sources so that ships can plug in. At present, ships and cruise ships docking in most of our ports remain with their engines running while loading or unloading materials or people.

Another interesting proposal is to turn ports into energy autonomous entities. Wind turbines, offshore solar panels and wave energy can make European ports self-sufficient. Port of Valencia plans to be 98% electrified by 2030.

The route is marked, we know it and we must continue to navigate it.