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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was in Copenhagen last week to officially launch the world’s first container ship running on 100% methanol – a meaningful step forward in the maritime sector’s efforts to cut its climate impact.
The glossy affair was organised by Danish shipping behemoth Maersk, who were no doubt elated to secure the involvement of the Commission chief.
Indeed, the ship even scored a reference in the EU State of the Union speech, held up as an example of Europe’s green future – although it was, however, overshadowed by the announcement that the Commission would probe Chinese electric vehicle subsidies – read the full coverage in the Stories of the Week section.
Von der Leyen was named the “Godmother” of the innovative vessel, a tradition which bestows the privilege of naming and christening the ship.
The name the Commission chief chose was on the conservative side – no Boaty McBoatface hijinks here. Instead, she went with ‘Laura Maersk’, a choice so inoffensive that it was surely approved by committee.
Indeed, the event was a mixture of genuine excitement at the prospect of cleaner shipping and the type of stage-managed formality typical of a meeting between the corporate and political classes – bland suits, rehearsed speeches, the shuffling choreography of handshakes and broad smiles.
There was some excitement when the Commission president pressed a red button, sending a bottle of champagne on a string swinging into the hull of the container ship. The bottle shattered, the crowd applauded, and the captain blasted the ship’s horn – a modern scene evocative of Europe’s romantic (or romanticised?) ship-building past.
“This ship, this moment, embodies Europe’s decision to pioneer the fight against climate change,” said von der Leyen, marvelling that “just a few years ago, a large vessel sailing on green methanol would have been unlikely, perhaps even impossible”.
Before the end of the decade, Maersk expects 25 vessels to sail on green methanol (bio-methanol and synthetic e-methanol), saving around 2.75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
The launch of the ship marks a titan of the industry taking meaningful steps to rein in its emissions. It is also a concrete decision by the company as to the technology it believes can be used to decarbonise the sector, which is responsible for some 3% of emissions globally.
Under the FuelEU Maritime regulation, ships refuelling at EU ports are required to use increasing quantities of low-carbon fuels. Unlike ReFuelEU, the sister legislation for the aviation sector, the law does not specify which green fuels should be used.
Rather, it is up to ship owners to decide which technology to invest in. This has caused debate in the sector, as it essentially meant investing now in unproven technologies for vessels which have a usual lifespan of decades.
If one invests in a decarbonising technology that proves in the future to be an expensive or unfeasible option compared to alternatives, it is a costly mistake.
But in launching this ship, Maersk has proven that methanol-powered ships are an option to slash shipping emissions.
In doing so, the company has asserted itself as the industry’s climate leader and even won plaudits from the leader of the EU (sorry Charles Michel fans).
“Not only did Maersk see the direction of travel but pioneers like you are shaping the economy of the future. This event is a big deal, not only for Europe but for the whole world,” she said.
You can watch the full launch event here (von der Leyen presses the red button at 1.03.30).
– Sean Goulding Carroll
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Investigation into Chinese electric vehicles: a chance for Europe to show its power?
In her State of the Union speech last week, one of the few concrete announcements by Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was an anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese cars, which she claims are “flooding” global markets.
While the group chief of von der Leyen’s own European People’s Party (EPP) group Manfred Weber backed her claim, immediate criticism came from another Bavarian EPP member, Markus Ferber, warning the EU not to leave its “path of virtue” of free trade as this could trigger countermeasures.
So, what now is the EPP position?
Euractiv asked Marian-Jean Marinescu, EPP coordinator in the Parliament’s transport committee, who said that despite being aware of potential retaliation by China, “I don’t think there is another chance to do it”.
“We want to be a strong power, so we have to show that we are a power,” he added.
Marinescu, a lawmaker from Romania, also used the chance to criticise the EU’s climate policy under its “Fit for 55” package more generally, for which there hadn’t been a sufficient impact assessment considering all the files together, in his view.
“We need an impact assessment of the whole package, very quickly,” he said, also calling for additional EU funding for the green transition.
While von der Leyen praised the “STEP” platform in her speech, a technology-funding scheme which should provide only EUR10 billion of fresh money from member states, Marinescu described it as “a joke”.
“We need money to help the industry to pass over this period and then based on the impact assessment, to revise everything,” he concluded.
– Jonathan Packroff
Stricter EU vehicle pollution rules would save thousands of lives: study
Draft EU rules to tighten pollution limits for new cars and trucks could prevent over 7,200 deaths in Europe by 2050, a new study has found, adding to the fraught debate over the Euro 7 proposal.
Conducted by the International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT), an NGO perhaps best known for uncovering the Diesel-gate scandal, the study looked at the impact of the legislative proposal on levels of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant emitted by combustion engine vehicles which is harmful to human health.
It found that if the European Commission proposal was approved, and rules were to enter into force in 2025, around 1 million tonnes of NOx would be prevented.
However, if the entry into force is pushed back – as is being proposed by the rapporteur in the European Parliament – the delay would lead to around an extra 1,800 premature deaths, according to the study.
Lead lawmaker Alexandr Vondra, an MEP with the nationalist ECR group, has called for the requirements to be postponed to roughly 2027 for cars and vans and 2029 for trucks and buses.
“The proposed Euro 7 standard will harm consumers as well as the manufacturers. Its impacts are disproportionate to its positive environmental effects,” he said in June.
Automakers have fought hard to water down the Euro 7 text, arguing that the standards cannot be implemented in the tight timeline put forward by the Commission. They also assert that the technology changes required by the law will make cars more expensive.
But Jan Dornoff, a senior researcher at the ICCT, says that any delay will cost lives.
“With cars and vans having average lifetimes of 18 years, and trucks and buses lasting around 20 years, each year of delay adds substantial NOx emissions to the air we breathe, which becomes a serious penalty on people’s health,” he said.
– Sean Goulding Carroll
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (13 September) announced an investigation into Chinese subsidies for electrical vehicles (EVs), a move that could lead to countervailing duties on EVs from China within nine months.
Von der Leyen’s approach to countermeasures against the growing number of Chinese electric cars distorting the EU single market through price-dumping practices have been under fire from German lawmakers and industry.
European countries allocated around two-thirds more money to roads than railways between 1995 and 2018, a period which saw the construction of an extra 30,000 km of motorways and a contraction of the rail network by over 15,000 km, according to a new study.
E-fuels must be climate-neutral for new vehicles with combustion engines to be sold after 2035, according to a new draft regulation – which resolves an internal dispute within the EU Commission – seen by Euractiv.
New cash incentives, dubbed a ‘green bonus’ and targeted towards electric vehicles (EVs) buyers, will be rolled out as of January 2024, aiming to support French and European carmaking industries and divert from Chinese cars, the government announced on Monday.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]
Read more with EURACTIV