< Show all posts

Despite environmental zones: Shipping and air traffic barely curbed

Air and sea traffic in Europe has an enormous volume, both in the tourism and logistics sectors. As a result, there are more and more environmental zones and measures to improve air quality at the (air) ports of Europe. But mostly only the cars are affected.

The cruise ships in the port of Marseille have been at a standstill for months - not completely. Although the industry has slumped under the Corona pandemic, to keep the giants in the bay maintained - even without guests - their generators run day in and day out. A citizens' initiative is now fighting to prevent the giants from blocking the bay and blowing the exhaust fumes from their fuel oil and diesel generators into the Mediterranean harbour air.
The citizens there, and elsewhere, are demanding that more be done at the (air) ports of Europe. Indeed, measures against air pollution are also increasing from the political side. And rightly so. It is now well known that air traffic, for example, is largely responsible for air pollution caused by ultra-fine dust. Ultrafine dust is extremely small, less than 100 nanometres in size. Therefore, it can penetrate far into the lungs and from there enter the blood and diffuse into any organs such as the heart and brain.

Recent research by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in the Netherlands, for example, shows that air traffic causes about 50% of ultrafine dust at 200 metres from the runway. At a distance of 5 kilometres, the share is still 25%. A study by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) shows slightly different figures, but a similar trend: aircraft are said to account for 25% of air pollution with ultrafine particles at a distance of 1 kilometre from Frankfurt Airport. Only about 5% is due to road traffic there, according to the UBA. Since not only take-off and landing, but also the ground movement of the aircraft is a major contributor to pollution, electric tow vehicles could move the aircraft on the ground to reduce emissions. A reduction in the sulphur contained in paraffin and a tightening of emissions-based landing fees could also help.

Citizens who measured emissions when a plane landed at Stuttgart airport found values ranging from 250,000 to well over one million particles per cubic centimetre. Normally, the values were only 6,000 to 15,000 particles per cubic centimetre. The Freising Citizens' Association in Bavaria sees the pandemic as an opportunity to establish zero values in the absence of air traffic at Munich Airport. In this way, it would finally be known how large the share of aircraft in the pollution actually is, if it were to skyrocket again after the pandemic.

At the airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, emissions are to be reduced. But it's not about the planes, but the vehicles in front of the airport. From June this year, therefore, only e-taxis, with the exception of large-capacity taxis, are to be allowed at the taxi rank in front of the arrivals hall. All of the airport's official taxis, more than 700 in number, are already emission-free. The airport also wants to be completely emission-free by 2030. Therefore, it has teamed up with Dutch railways NS and Prorail to advance connectivity with green methods. The airport also already has the largest electric bus fleet in Europe. The 100 Connexion buses have been in use in and around Schiphol since March 2018. Emissions on the tarmac, however, are ignored.

Just like at airports, ships contribute heavily to air pollution in European ports. Heavy oil and diesel are to blame.

According to NABU measurements, the air at the port of Hamburg is only just below the limit values. Although there is no normal environmental zone in Hamburg, nitrogen oxide pollution is to be reduced by banning diesel driving in some streets. According to the 2017 Clean Air Plan, however, 39% of nitrogen oxide pollution in Hamburg is not attributable to diesel vehicles at all, but to shipping traffic. And the emissions from the port itself are not even included in these calculations.

Even in Rotterdam, Europe's largest port, vehicles are finding it increasingly difficult. There will be no tightening of the environmental zones in the Netherlands. But the environmental zone at the port of Rotterdam Maasvlakte already only allows trucks over 3.5 tonnes with Euro standard 6. The zone does not affect the entire port of Rotterdam, through which almost 470 million tonnes of goods were transported in 2018. But the Maasvlakte, with seven port basins, has an enormous share of transport.

So often, emissions are not reduced in planes or ships, but in vehicles. After all, in 2018, the port of Rotterdam welcomed the Jacques Saade, a container giant powered by liquefied gas, for the first time. The French shipping company CMA-CGM wants to commission 20 such colossi in the next 2 years. The companies Vopak and Gasunie have opened a terminal for liquid gas. 9 tankers can now supply the giants with liquefied gas. The use of the gas has probably increased tenfold in the last 2 years. Most ships, however, continue to run on fuel oil. But something is also happening on the regulatory side: the International Maritime Organization of the United Nations IMO has tightened the rules regarding oil. It is now only permitted to sail with heavy fuel oil with a high sulphur content if the exhaust gases are filtered in the funnels. The alternatives are heating oil with less sulphur, diesel - or even liquefied petroleum gas. At the port of Rotterdam there is now also a fuel cell vehicle that transports trailers loaded with containers.

Back to the citizens of Marseille: although there is a temporary environmental zone in Marseille, this does not of course stop cruise ships from parking in the port of the Mediterranean city. Should the zone be activated, this would affect the car-driving citizens of the city, but not the floating hotels that make citizens dream of a summer holiday far away. From the end of the year, there should even be a permanent environmental zone in Marseille. Although this would ban some vehicles, it would not be able to ensure clean air if ships continue to moor in the harbour. Incidentally, one ship at berth produces about as many emissions as 10,000 to 30,000 vehicles. When it is driven, it is 5 to 10 times as many.

So far, far too little is being done in the aviation and shipping industries, or in the policies that regulate them. Up to now, car drivers have had to compensate for the pollution caused by the colossuses, and usually suffer from the air pollution themselves as residents in the neighbouring areas of the (air) ports. Both the environmental zones near the (air) ports and elsewhere, as well as the requirements for new vehicles, are becoming more and more stringent. The waterborne and airborne transport and tourism industries are not held accountable. This could be possible, for example, through emission standards and environmental zones for aircraft and ships.

The people of Marseille are symbolic of this injustice, having an environmental zone placed in front of them, where old vehicles will soon be permanently banned from entering. But the floating colossi continue to bob around in their harbour, spoiling the air and the view there.