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Transport’s role in reducing CO2 emissions

Energy transition

The Port of Rotterdam Authority is working closely together with the Wuppertal Institute. This research institution has examined how the transport sector can help reduce worldwide CO2 emissions. “This study doesn’t just show that we can achieve this CO2 reduction, but also how,” says the Port of Rotterdam Authority’s Energy Transition Strategy programme lead Caroline Kroes.

“Let’s start with some figures: close to 25% of our global CO2 emissions are caused by transport. And between 30 and 40% of this total is produced by cargo transport. A lot of people don’t realise this, but 80% of the worldwide trade in physical products is transported by sea. And 4% is shipped via the port of Rotterdam. This concerns almost every product category that we use on a daily basis – including computers, clothing and food products like coffee, grapes and rice. But also resources like petrol. If we don’t do anything, by 2050 our emissions may have increased by 50 to 250%. Nevertheless, as far as CO2 emissions are concerned, shipping remains the most efficient mode of freight transport. If you transported all these products by other means – air or road – the carbon footprint would be a lot larger still.

We asked the Wuppertal Institute to map out how freight transport via Rotterdam can contribute to the reduction of our CO2 emissions – even though the shipping sector isn’t actually covered by the Paris Agreement. Their research identified a number of key pathways. The first important finding is that transport volumes and cargo flows themselves will actually change as a result of the Paris Agreement’s implementation. Coal transport volumes, for example, will decline – with this cargo being replaced by other product categories like biomass and synthetic fuels.

Secondly, we need to change our approach to transport. On the one hand, we can improve efficiency; on the other, we can adapt our transport fuels. One example is sea-going vessels that complete a large share of their voyage running on synthetic fuels like hydrogen and methanol. Or we can use full-electric vessels for transport to the hinterland. This calls for new ship designs and engine conversions. According to the researchers, LNG and biofuels will continue to play a major role as fuel alternatives until sufficient synthetic fuels become available.

We can already – in fact, we need to – start improving efficiency today. The most sustainable energy around is energy that isn’t used in the first place. Short-term reduction of our power consumption will yield immediate results. For example, when planning your itinerary, you can take close account of weather conditions to get the smoothest possible route. Or keep the hull of your vessel clean to minimise drag. And you can work to schedule your port calls as tightly as possible. The Port of Rotterdam Authority is catering to programmes like these – through the development of new services by our Digital Business Solutions unit, for example.

A number of parties in the port are already making active work of the energy transition. We facilitate these initiatives – by offering test sites for research, for example – and bring them in contact with each other. This requires the collaboration of our partners in the chain: challenging, but definitely not impossible. Collaboration can result in new opportunities and new returns.

We have collected a huge mass of data for this report. It was an intensive undertaking but definitely worth it. Because this study doesn’t just show that we can achieve this CO2 reduction, but also how. If, as private companies and politicians, we unambiguously choose this course of action and commit to it, I am convinced we will be able to achieve our 2050 reduction target.”

Energy in transition

The Port of Rotterdam Authority is committed to combating climate change and wants to play a leading role in the global energy transition. The reduction of CO2 emissions and efficient use of raw and residual materials are important tasks for the Port Authority.

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