As maritime transport is an essential to global trade and the economy, it is highly globalised. In the EU, it carries 77% of external trade and 35% of intra-EU trade. Therefore, despite the pressure it exerts on the environment, it is an important pillar of the Blue Economy, although it does exert pressure on the environment. Indeed, maritime transport plays a key role in the world’s economy and towards the achievement of EU decarbonisation objectives.
Shipping is the most environmentally friendly means of transportation, emitting the least amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of distance and weight transported. International maritime transportation emits less than 3% of global CO2 annually. In addition, it produces fewer exhaust gas emissions - such as nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and sulphur dioxide - per tonne transported per kilometre than air or road transport. Given the importance of marine transportation and the likelihood of it being expanded, the industry must continue to lessen its environmental impact.
Due to the expected growth of the world economy and associated transport demand from world trade, greenhouse gas emissions from shipping could grow anywhere from 50% to 250% by 2050 unless measures are taken. This makes it paramount for the industry to continue to improve the energy efficiency of ships and to shift to alternative fuels.
In 2019, the total weight of goods transported to/from main ports in the EU-27 by short sea shipping (which excludes the movement of cargo across oceans: deep sea shipping) was 1.8 billion tonnes. Maritime transport includes:
- passenger transport: sea, coastal and inland passenger water transport;
- freight transport: sea, coastal freight and inland freight water transport;
- services for transport: renting and leasing of water transport equipment.
Inland transport is considered part of the Blue Economy because it includes transport of passengers and freight via rivers, canals, lakes and other inland waterways, including within harbours and ports.
In tandem with the deployment of alternative marine fuels, efforts are being made under the Zero Pollution Action Plan to substantially reduce future emissions to air, water, and the environmental footprint of the maritime transport industry in general.
Delivering on the establishment of wide ranging ‘Emission Control Areas’ (ECAs) in all EU waters with zero pollution to air and water from shipping for the benefits of sea basins, coastal areas and ports will be a priority. In particular, the Commission has spearheaded efforts to replicate the success of existing ECAs in areas of the Mediterranean Sea that require urgent protection. By 2030, such measures could cut emissions of SO2 and NOx from international shipping by 80% and 20% respectively, compared to the current regulations. Similar efforts will also be made in the Black Sea region, where development is required.
The maritime transport sector generated a GVA of EUR 34.3 billion in 2019, up 27% on 2009 figures. Gross profit, at EUR 18.2 billion, was up 30% on 2009. The profit margin was estimated at 11%, the same as in 2009. The investment ratio (gross investment in tangible goods / GVA) was estimated at 34%, still well below the figure for 2009 (65%). The turnover reported for 2019 was EUR 163.4 billion, a 34% increase on 2009.
In 2019, more than 403 000 persons were directly employed in the sector (13% more than in 2009). Total wages and salaries amounted to EUR 15.9 billion and the annual average wage was estimated at almost EUR 39 000, up 9% compared to 2009.
As part of its efforts to encourage the use of Autonomous and Sustainable Ships and Shipping, the European Commission recently published the EU Operational Guidelines on trials of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships.
The Commission also adopted an ambitious strategy for European transport under the umbrella of the European Green Deal. This new strategy is based on sustainability, built on multimodal transport systems (for both passengers and freight), enhanced recharging and refuelling infrastructure for zero emission vehicles, (including ships, boats, ferries), and digitalisation and the use of new technologies.