Toxic air pollutants from cruise ships around ports are higher than pre-pandemic levels, leaving Europe’s port cities choking in air pollution, a new Transport & Environment (T&E) study shows.
ccording to the report, despite the introduction of the UN shipping body’s sulphur cap in 2020, last year Europe’s 218 cruise ships emitted as much sulphur oxides (SOx) as 1 billion cars.
However, at the port of Venice air pollutants from cruise ships fell 80% following the city’s ban on large cruise ships. It shows that it is possible to tackle air pollution, says T&E, which calls for greater electrification at ports in order to save lives. The most cruise polluted port in 2019 dropped to 41st last year following a ban on large cruise ships entering the port that was introduced in 2021, leading to an 80% fall in SOx emissions.
Venice has shown that tackling cruise ship pollution is possible, but bans aren’t the only way. Ports can significantly reduce pollution levels by forcing ships to plug into electricity at the port instead of running their engines, and by supporting the adoption of zero-emission fuels.
… said Constance Dijkstra, shipping campaigner at T&E
That did not however stop Italy from surpassing Spain as the most cruise ship polluted country in Europe. Although the Mediterranean bears the brunt of cruise ship pollution, Norway came fourth in the ranking and even had the highest cruise traffic of any country, albeit with smaller ships.
The pandemic provided some respite for port cities, but this is now well and truly over. Cruising is back and tourist hotspots like Barcelona and Athens are again choking on toxic air pollution from cruise ships.
… added Constance Dijkstra, shipping campaigner at T&E
According to the report, the most polluting cruise ships operator was MSC Cruises – whose cruise ships emitted nearly as much SOx as all the passenger vehicles in Europe. Accounting for all of its subsidiaries, the Carnival group polluted the most.
Many cruise operators like MSC are investing in fossil gas (LNG) as a cleaner alternative. So far this year, more than 40% of cruise ships ordered were LNG-powered, T&E noted.
These ships are better in terms of air pollution, but they are extremely damaging from a climate perspective due to methane leaks from their engines – a potent gas over 80 times more warming than CO2, T&E warned. P&O’s MS Iona, for example, emitted as much methane as 10,500 cows over a year, according to the report.
According to the report, the regulations should focus on promoting long-term and scalable solutions that will encourage ships to move away from fossil-based fuels and avoid the use of solutions with downsides such as scrubbers or methane–based fuels.
- The EU should extend the zero-emission berth mandate for cruise ships to cover anchorage, as well.
- Establish more stringent decarbonisation requirements on cruise ships that call at European ports.
- Implement zero-emission corridors for the most popular cruise ships trajectories in European waters.
- Incentives to LNG uptake in shipping should be discontinued under the European and national regulatory frameworks. This can be achieved by:
- Updating the methane accounting system under the EU ETS and FuelEU Maritime to better reflect real-world methane emissions from shipping. To ensure consistent implementation and avoid cheating, the EU should require ships to install continuous methane monitoring systems onboard the vessels.
- Discontinue LNG infrastructure mandate in European ports under the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation and replace them with (at least) hydrogen bunkering in cruise terminals.
- Set under FuelEUMaritime a green H2(-based fuels) subtarget of 6% by 2030, significantly increasing in the following periods.
- SECAs should be extended to the rest of all EU and UK waters. SOx emissions standards should be lowered to reflect the sulphur content allowed for road transport in the EU (10ppm sulphur standard – 0.001%). In addition, the EU should consider developing its own operational NOX standard for ships using the architecture of the FuelEU Maritime regulation (e.g. limits on gNOX/MJ of energy used).
Switching from oil to gas is like trading smoking for alcohol. It may help the cruise ship industry to reduce air pollution but it is terrible from a climate perspective.
… concluded Constance Dijkstra