Maritime taxonomy: new study contributes to definition of ‘sustainable economic activity’

News from Brussels

Source: European Commission, 2021-05-04

The results of a new study on greening the maritime sector assesses which forms of maritime transport and related activities can be considered sustainable. The study is linked to ongoing work on the EU Taxonomy for Sustainable Finance initiative. The Taxonomy is intended to increase investment in sustainable activities across all economic sectors. It will help potential investors and companies to understand whether any finance injected into a specific project would be classified as ‘sustainable investment’.

In line with the ambitious goals set out in the EU Green Deal and the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, the EU is preparing initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, and make the EU climate-neutral by 2050.

In the maritime sector, no single measure will reduce emissions to the extent necessary. This is why the European Commission will propose a basket of measures. The EU Taxonomy for Sustainable Finance can help. By setting harmonised criteria for determining whether an economic activity qualifies as environmentally sustainable, it is intended to incentivise the greening of the sector.

To contribute to the work on defining ‘sustainable economic activities’, the European Commission requested this study, which:

  • assesses the different decarbonisation pathways in the maritime sector;

  • takes stock of emerging technologies and ongoing policy developments at both EU and global level;

  • considers which economic activities could be considered environmentally sustainable in line with the Taxonomy Regulation, and under which conditions.

The resulting technical screening criteria are compatible with the framework used by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), capture the diversity of vessels and business models within the sector, and distinguish between new-builds and retrofitting. Currently there are no commercially viable zero-emission solutions for ocean-going vessels. Therefore it is important to support the transition to zero-emissions vessels, including R&D on alternative technologies, fuels and infrastructure.

The study also looks at the challenges the shipping sector currently faces in accessing green finance, and identifies measures to avoid any potential risk of greenwashing.

The study’s findings contributed to the development of the climate mitigation and adaptation criteria for maritime shipping, which were included in the EU Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act adopted in April 2021.

The Taxonomy Regulation was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 22 June 2020 and entered into force on 12 July 2020. It sets out conditions that an economic activity must meet to qualify as environmentally sustainable.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need to redirect capital flows towards sustainable projects in order to make our economies, businesses and societies, in particular health systems, more resilient against climate and environmental shocks and risks.

The action plan on financing sustainable growth called for the creation of a common classification system for sustainable economic activities, or an ‘EU taxonomy’.


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