EU wants €20 billion extra for the Horizon innovation fund, but will it happen?

The European Union is entering a new phase with the inauguration of the new European Commission, which was approved by the European Parliament yesterday after a long series of personal interviews. The new President, Ursula von der Leyen, has set a clear course for her commissioners. This is primarily aimed at making Europe climate-neutral. The other major pillar of its intended policy is to increase the competitiveness of the European Union.

President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission has set out a strict policy framework.

The key question, of course, is how she and her fellow commissioners want to achieve these objectives. In the main, that means: research into better production methods and innovating the existing ones. Consequently, funding is needed for this.

Dire necessity

Innovation and its investment is a dire necessity, according to the new European governance. In the first place, because the European Union must be completely CO2-neutral by 2050. This means that we will have to live, drive, fly and produce in a CO2 neutral way. So that’s quite a challenge. Secondly, because competing superpowers such as the US (2.8%), South Korea (4.2%) and Japan (3.3%) invest a much higher percentage of their GDP in innovation than the EU does. (2.1% while the target is set at a minimum of 3%). These countries subsequently also score better when it comes to innovating their businesses. Because of this, the EU is lagging behind them, so says Bulgarian Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, She is in charge of the innovation budget for the upcoming period.

As her predecessor Carlos Moedas had already announced last year, Gabriel wants to increase the budget of the research and innovation fund Horizon Europe from almost €100 billion to €120 billion. This amount is to be spread over the 2021 to 2027 budget period. This money should go towards basic research in universities as well as innovation by large companies, start-ups and SMEs.

Not a piece of cake

Which is a noble ambition that no member state should actually be opposed to. You’d think that it was a piece of cake. But it’s not. Life is complicated within the offices of the European institutions. They have to constantly do business with the governments of the 28 – and, if there is a Brexit, 27 – member states. Then those governments have to deal with their constituents in the cities and rural areas of their country. And the constituencies (especially those in the poorer EU regions) may threaten the innovation plans of this new European Commission.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, wants more money for the Horizon Fund

The major battle is being waged via discussions by the heads of state or governments concerning the European Union’s long-term budget. This is something which they will have to hammer out in 2020. Von der Leyen wants more money from the member states to be able to implement her ambitious policy program. But the member states do not want to pay the EU a higher percentage of their GNP, says spokesman Roy Kenkel of The Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (PV) in Brussels. (As an example, the European Commission wants The Netherlands to contribute 1.11% of their GNP).

“The Netherlands is in favor of a larger innovation budget. We think that’s an excellent idea! But we also believe that this money could come from the resources that the European Commission has at its disposal if we were to continue to contribute the same percentage as we do now. Our GNP is on the rise, so our contribution will in any event deliver more money to the EU with the current, unchanged percentage of our GNP.”

Not mentioned in the budget

It makes more sense for the EU to restructure its budget and adapt it to the demands of our time, says Kenkel. That is what Von der Leyen also said in her speech yesterday. In Von der Leyen’s opinion, the MFF (otherwise known as the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework) should not be seen as a simple calculation of expenditure, but rather as a policy instrument that will modernize the European Union’s budget.

That might be the case, except up until now the problem has been that you cannot discern this in the document that the European Commission sent to the member states last May and which the member states are currently negotiating. It does not say, for example, that the Horizon Innovation Fund should be increased by €20 billion. Whereas the new European Commission does want to use this extra money to tie into specific industrial policy. Something that is new for the European Union, as the French EU Commissioner for the Internal Market and Industry, Thierry Breton, said to the European Parliament during his hearing last month.

European Commissioner Thierry Breton wants to tie industrial policy to innovation paid for with Horizon money.

Other expenditure areas

One way in which the extra €20 billion could still be included in the budget is for the European Commission to submit a separate additional proposal to the member states. That’s what Kenkel from the PV in Brussels says. Nevertheless, he thinks that this isn’t very likely as this is a cumbersome process and the negotiations are already underway. He believes that it would be more logical to discuss the matter during ongoing negotiations.

Then there is also the question of how important the member states regard the growth of the innovation fund compared to that of other expenditure. Such as for the common agricultural policy and the cohesion fund. Funding for the development of poor regions must be paid from this. The European Commission actually wants to cut 5% off both of these expenditure areas. And that is definitely something that the countries that benefit most from these funds do not want to happen.

Read also: Aviation industry to European Commission: ‘money is needed to develop zero-emission aircraft’

€88 billion on offer

The signs are not very favorable in this respect, says Guillaume Gillet, He is the director of InnoEnergy in Brussels, an investment company that invests money from private investors and the Horizon Fund in promising, innovative start-ups in the energy field. “It is said that the Finnish chairmanship wants to reduce the budget for Horizon to €88 billion. It will only be possible to raise it to €120 billion if the European Parliament fights very hard for that.”

The question is how bad would that be? After all, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans has already announced that part of the funds for cohesion and agriculture can be used for innovation in the agricultural sector and for the development of rural areas. The intention is that these funds will thereby contribute to making Europe environmentally sustainable.

Read also: European Commissioner Timmermans wants CO2 tax at the EU’s outer border

The difference with financing innovation via these funds, however, is that the funds are distributed by the governments of the member states. Who in turn allocate these to their national constituencies. It now remains to be seen as to what extent this will benefit both European cooperation and European coordination in terms of industrial policy.

Not enough money for scale-ups

According to investor Gillet, the European Commission is also investing directly via Horizon in innovative start-ups who would otherwise be unable to raise money as their profitability is uncertain. That’s going well for now. Although a larger Horizon Fund would make this support more robust, Gillet states. So far, the problem has been that there is not enough money to invest in the further growth of start-ups. This makes it difficult for them to become fully-fledged companies that are able to grow and flourish in Europe. It is precisely these scale-ups that provide employment as well as develop knowledge and bring prosperity. “American and Asian investors are investing money in them. That’s because of their more aggressive culture when it comes to high-risk capital investment. Consequently, Europe is losing a number of successful start-ups.”

Read also: ‘Europe must invest in a hub for collaborative robots in SMEs’

Whereas these are in fact what you would prefer to hold on to. Which is also what Von der Leyen said in her speech yesterday. Whether she will be successful in this respect over the coming period will become clear when the new MFF is mapped out next year.

EU Commissioner Vestager to present new AI law at the start of 2020

Over the next three months, European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager will draft a new European law for AI. As of December, she will be responsible for the digitization of the European market. She plans to present her new AI law in March. After that, the European Parliament and the governments and parliaments of the Member States will have to approve her new AI law.

The new AI law is to lay out the rules regarding the collection and sharing of data by, among others, the large American tech companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google whose internet platforms are being used on a massive scale by European citizens. At the moment there is only a guideline for e-privacy and one set of regulations for data protection (GDPR). The new law must include rules that make the collectors and distributors of data liable for any abuse use of this data.

Nightmare for the US

The greatest nightmare for the high profile big tech companies in the US is her intention to adopt new tax regulations following on from the new AI law. This should apply to internet platforms all over the world which make money from consumers in European countries. In recent years, Vestager has already taken Apple to court for tax evasion. She imposed a fine of 13 billion euros on them for this.

As far as she is concerned, the new tax regulations that she has in mind should be applicable worldwide. If she cannot do this because, for example, some countries do not want to cooperate, she said that the European Commission will continue to impose fines on non-European companies on an individual basis if they pay insufficient tax in the EU.

Breaking up Google and Facebook

She may also impose fines if American big tech companies abuse their dominant market position. She has done so in the past few years while she was European Commissioner for Competition. If these fines do not lead to an improvement in their behaviour on the European market, she wants to break up the American business conglomerates. That is what she said in response to questions from Paul Tang, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament. Tang is also member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats on behalf of this PvdA party (the Dutch Labor Party). Vestager then told Tang that she had the means to do this. She did not specify what kind of means she has at her disposal.

Member of the European Parliament Paul Tang wants Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to break open American ‘big tech’ companies.

Gaining citizen’s trust

With its new European AI law, Vestager said they want to allay the fears of European citizens. In particular those who currently lack faith in the digitization of society. She says this is necessary as she believes there are two types of companies. The type that is digital – and the type that will soon become digital. In other words, sooner or later all citizens will have to participate in the digitization of everyday life, so she wants to make sure that the Internet is not intimidating to them.

In the second place, she wants AI to be used to make the citizens’ lives easier rather than more difficult. She wants to prevent digital platforms from collecting data via AI in order to influence the choice of consumers and businesses so that they can earn money from them. It was precisely for this reason that during her previous term as European Commissioner for Competition, she imposed a fine of 4.3 billion euros on the search engine Google.

More rules, less innovation?

The question is whether the new rules for AI will not stand in the way of innovation. Nicola Beer, an MEP from the Renew Group in the European Parliament, wanted to know whether Vestager had thought about how she intended to preserve Europe’s leading role in AI innovation. Vestager replied that she was looking for a more balanced situation. According to her, European citizens should benefit from the innovations that AI brings. Yet at the same time also be protected against their eventual misuse.

Europarliamentarian Nicola Beer wants to know how Vestager will ensure that the EU will remain a leader in the AI field.

Meanwhile, the initial reactions from the AI group of professionals to Vestager’s plans for new legislation have been quite reserved. “I find it a bit vague that Vestager says that AI sometimes makes life more difficult.” That’s what Buster Franken says, AI entrepreneur and developer from TU/e. “It is true that AI influences your choices via Google. But that can also make your life a lot easier.”

‘Small-scale AI companies in the EU are the victims’

Franken believes that there is a danger that a new law will burden smaller AI companies with far too many rules. “We already have a hard time finding capital to invest in our innovations. If new rules are added now, that will adversely affect us. It also means that you have extra work in order to comply with them. Maybe we don’t have the money for this. While this new law is supposed to combat abuse by large companies such as Google and Facebook.”

Read also: ‘Europe must invest in a hub for collaborative robots in SMEs’

“The point is namely that companies like Google can abuse data because they have loads of money. If there is a new law, they will undoubtedly be able to comply with it. Then they will simply look for another route. They have enough money to hire an army of elite lawyers. Small AI companies don’t have that.”

European Commissioner Timmermans wants CO2 tax at the EU’s outer border

CO2 uitstoot schoorstenen

Dutch European Commissioner Frans Timmermans (who will be responsible for climate issues) wants to introduce a CO2 tax at the outer border of the European Union. This is in order to avoid products that have not been manufactured in a climate-neutral way. He announced this measure during his approval hearing at the European Parliament. There they are appointing the new European Commission which will take up office next month. According to Timmermans, this is the only way to get the European climate law passed which he is to present this spring. The exact date on which this border tax is to come into effect should be revealed in this climate law. It will apply to all Member States.

A 55% reduction by 2030

This climate law ought to include information on how the Member States will make their economies climate-neutral. CO2 emissions must be reduced by 55% by 2030, Timmermans announced. That is 10% more than what was originally agreed to. By 2050, CO2 emissions need to zero out on balance. With that commitment, in two weeks’ time he will start his mandate as European Commissioner for Climate Change. His most important task will be to deliver a so-called ‘Green Deal’. The new climate law is an important part of this. Along with that, he wants to overhaul legislation on greenhouse gas emissions and energy.

European Commissioner Frans Timmermans announces the CO2 border tax in the European Parliament Image: still live streaming

The problem is not that achieving CO2-neutral production is not technically possible, says Erik Klooster. He is managing director of VNPI, a Dutch association which brings together the major petrochemical companies (together with the chemical and metal industries, who are the main producers of CO2), such as Shell and Esso. “It is,” he states. The problem is that making the industry CO2-neutral makes manufacturing much more expensive. This makes the industry less competitive compared to industry in countries that are not implementing any climate measures. If there is no such border tax, European industry will be forced out of business. “Esso has been calling for this kind of carbon adjustment or carbon border tax for years,” says Klooster. “It is the only way to make Europe climate-neutral.”

A leading role

That is also what Commissioner Timmermans told the European Parliament, who will have to approve his new climate legislation next year. “We shouldn’t want to bring in products that are cheaper because they have not taken the environment into account. I think that such a CO2 border tax will be subject to an assessment from the WTO. If, for example, a country such as China or India also starts to produce in a CO2-neutral way, we will drop that tax on their products.”

Also read: Former Secretary of State of the United States: Quadruple the CO2 price and let the polluter pay

Empty gas fields

That’s also the purpose of such a levy, says Klooster. “The EU’s share in global CO2 emissions is relatively small. So we don’t have to do it for that sake.” The EU, and the Netherlands in particular, can play an important pioneering role by involving other countries in the world such (as India and China) in the production of clean energy. “Industry in the Netherlands is geographically close to each other. There are enough empty gas fields available in the next few decades for storing CO2 that has been emitted and captured. It is therefore cheaper to build a pipeline for CO2 transport to an empty gas field than it is in England, for example. Industry is scattered all over the country there.

Extracting CO2 from air

Another method of achieving CO2-neutral production is to capture the greenhouse gas and bind it to hydrogen via a chemical process. This creates a synthetic fuel that can be reused. This is also a way to ensure that aircraft that don’t fly electrically and therefore continue to emit CO2 will still be able to operate in a climate-neutral way, says Klooster. “You can extract the amount of CO2 that an aircraft produces out of the air, and then store or process it.”

Also read: Aviation industry to European Commission: ‘money is needed to develop zero-emission aircraft’

National Parliaments

The question is whether national parliaments are prepared to sign the climate legislation that Timmermans will be proposing. For example, the Polish Member of the European Parliament Anna Zalewska ( from the Conservatives and Reformists faction) said at the Timmermans hearing prior to his appointment as European Commissioner for Climate last month, that she feared it would destroy Polish industry. Much of it runs on coal. “Hundreds of billions of euros are needed to make the transition possible. We just don’t have that.”

Euro-parliamentarian Anna Zalewska, from the Conservatives and Reformists faction, says that Poland does not have enough money to abandon coal.

Money for Poland en Greece

Timmermans replied that money had to be sent to countries such as Poland and Greece because they are unable to pay for the energy transition themselves. “My grandparents were miners in Heerlen. When the mines were still open, Heerlen was the second richest city in the Netherlands. After the closure of the mines, Heerlen changed into one of the poorest municipalities in the Netherlands. We must make sure that we prevent this from happening in the European regions that are currently dependent on coal.”

Also read: BMW Director: ‘Make recharging electric cars as easy as recharging smartphones’

Timmermans stressed that there is absolutely no future for the coal industry. He wants to work together with national and local authorities, the European Investment Bank and make use of existing EU funds for this transition by diverting them towards making the EU climate-neutral.

Cost: 200 billion euros per year

An important part of the money needed to make poor, coal-dependent regions climate-neutral should come from richer EU countries such as The Netherlands and Germany. Their national parliaments must approve the new climate law, including the redistribution of financial resources. Commissioner Timmermans predicted that it would take in total €200 billion a year over the next five years to make the EU climate-neutral. “But the Member States are almost as stingy as the Dutch,” he said. “They have to open their wallets.”

EU awards three start-ups with €50,000 each to reduce plastic waste

Today, the European Commission announced the winners of the 2019 European Social Innovation Competition.  The three winning projects from the 2019 “Challenging Plastic Waste” Competition will each receive 50.000 euro for demonstrating outstanding potential to reduce plastic waste and improve re-use and recycling at a systemic level. Drumroll: and the winners are:

  • MIWA (Czech Republic)
    An innovative, financially sustainable circular distribution and sale system for food and non-food products with re-usable packaging.
  • SpraySafe (Portugal)
    An edible spray to be applied to the surface of foods in order to preserve them, thus reducing the need for plastic wrapping and containers.
  • VEnvirotech (Spain)
    A biotech start-up that transforms organic waste into biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) bioplastics using bacteria.

The three 2019 Winners were selected from a total of 543 initial applicants from across Europe. In July, 30 Semi-Finalists took part in the 2019 European Social Innovation Competition’s Academy; an intensive training and coaching programme designed to develop their initiatives. Out of these thirty semi-finalists the jury chose ten finalists.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs commented: “the European Social Innovation Competition clearly shows how we can tackle some of the biggest challenges facing European society through innovation and entrepreneurship. I would like to congratulate especially the three winners and to thank all of the participants for their entrepreneurship, ingenuity and enthusiasm.”

Alumni Network

During the event, the European Commission also announced the launch of the European Social Innovation Competition Alumni Network. All of the Competition’s Semi-Finalists, Finalists and Winners will now have the opportunity to join this community of entrepreneurs, thus fostering cooperation between innovators across the different themes covered by the Competition. They will also benefit from added exposure, as sector relevant bodies and aspiring innovators will be able to find them on the new online directory.

This year it’s the 7th edition of the competition organised by the European Commission run across all EU Member States and Horizon 2020 associated countries. The competition acts as a beacon for social innovators in Europe, employing a proven method for supporting early-stage ideas and facilitating a network of innovators shaping society for the better. Each year the Competition addresses a different issue facing Europe. This year the focus is: Challenging Plastic Waste.

Backstory: Coal Curtain replaces the Iron Curtain, but there is hope on the horizon

Interim targets have been set for 2020 and 2030 in the run-up to 2050 European climate targets. The member states must specify their intentions for achieving these targets in a national climate and energy plan. Hungary is not exactly at the forefront when it comes to these proposals. Recently, the country was even partly responsible for thwarting a European climate agreement. In spite of this, experts see sufficient opportunities for a sustainable future. Not only for Hungary, but also for the rest of the region.

European climate and energy plans

In order to pave the way for the energy transition in Europe, all 28 member states were asked to submit a national Energy and Climate Plan by 31 December 2018 with concrete proposals for phasing out their coal-fired power plants and for the reduction of CO2 emissions through energy-saving measures, sustainable mobility and the use of renewable energy sources. After an assessment of these provisional plans, the member states must submit a definite, updated version by the 31st of December this year at the latest.

Not only was Hungary two months late in delivering its initial plan, but the plan was more or less rejected on all points by the European Commission. In one example, Hungary estimates that the proportion of their renewable energy sources will reach a mere 20% by 2030, while the minimum is set at 32%. It remains to be seen whether any notable improvements can be expected in the short term in Hungary. This also applies to the other central European countries.

As such, Hungary is certainly not at the top of the class when it comes to combating climate change and working towards the energy transition. On the contrary, together with Poland, the Czech Republic and Estonia, the country even managed to prevent the signing of a European climate agreement last June.

Hungarian officials and state media are in the habit of downplaying and ridiculing climate concerns. For example, in an interview with President János Áder in the run-up to the Climate Summit in Chile, the presenter from the state-run Híradó Rádió spoke of ‘climate hysteria’. Áder himself dismissed Hungary’s accountability for CO2 emissions as ‘negligible.’ As well as that of the annual European proportion of CO2 emissions, which was purported to be as much as China has on a single day. A major gaffe, according to the independent online publication 444.hu. In fact, this ratio is not 365 times as much, instead it is just three times as much.

Low energy costs

As in other Central European countries, global warming is still seen as being far removed from daily life in Hungary. In a region with a rapidly ageing population and low levels of prosperity, public health is seen as the primary focal point.

A curious rationale. All the more so because of the air pollution caused by the burning of coal and solid fuels in traditional wood-burning stoves poses an enormous health risk. Especially since it is still the most important form of heat supply in the Hungarian countryside. That’s in Hungary. But even more so in a traditional coal country like Poland, where 70% of the population still uses coal. And where, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 36 of the 50 European cities with the worst air pollution are located.

Yet the main reason for clinging to fossil resources has to do with the low energy prices. Which, by the way, are being kept low artificially. It is claimed that investments in the energy transition would drive up monthly costs for the population. Plus, in such populist-ruled countries, it’s easy to score with low-energy bills. Especially during elections. Regardless of what the long-term consequences are for the population. And aside from the question why they can keep prices down for coal but can’t seem to do that for sustainable sources.

Coal Curtain instead of Iron Curtain

Compared to the northern and western parts of Europe, Central European countries are still more or less dependent on fossil resources, according to the report titled ‘The Energy Transition in Central and Eastern Europe: The business case for a higher ambition’ by the renowned Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group from the Institute for Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cambridge.

After all, besides being consumers, Poland and the Czech Republic are also producers of coal. The Czech Republic is an exporter as well. Although Hungary still has only one coal-fired power station left, Mátra Erömü, but this one is linked to Orbán’s faithful childhood friend, the number one Hungarian oligarch, Lörinc Mészáros. The closure of the plant is, therefore, out of the question, although the Hungarian government claims that this is purely and entirely to do with the jobs involved.

The Mátrai Erömü coal-fired power station Photo Wikipedia Commons

On balance, 30 years later, Europe is now at risk of being split in two by a Coal Curtain instead of an Iron Curtain.

Green alternatives

Out of concern about these developments, various ‘green’ organizations, companies and NGOs from the so-named Visegrad countries of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, along with neighboring Austria, have recently joined forces to form the Visegrad+ Platform. The aim is to initiate energy transition in the region as an alternative to the official state policy. One of the initiators is Energiaklub, a Hungarian NGO that focuses on spreading scientific understanding of environmental and climate issues and energy transition.

Experts from this Energiaklub, together with those from the Hungarian sustainable mobility company Mobilissimus, the Hungarian think tank Városkutatás and the European think tank E3G, all provided input as well for the previously mentioned report – ‘The Energy Transition in Central and Eastern Europe’ – in March last year.

This report not only draws alarming conclusions, but at the same time proposes solutions too. For example, the report states that buildings in the former Eastern Bloc countries in Central Europe are responsible for a significant share of energy demand. The outdated public transport network from the socialist era also leaves a lot to be desired. But according to the authors, this is also the solution to this problem. After all, with regard to both energy efficiency in the built-up environment and sustainable mobility, much-needed investments and effective measures could yield considerable benefits. For example, the typical prefabricated flats from the Eastern Bloc period can be renovated in a sustainable manner using standardized solutions. These are fairly simple to implement. And existing initiatives such as electric vehicles and bicycle and car-sharing programs could be expanded even further.

Earnings from renewable energy

Furthermore, the energy transition could be accelerated by the use of renewable energy sources. For instance, solar PV is an excellent option for Hungary, just as it is for Romania and Bulgaria. Countries with a coastline such as Poland and the Baltic States would be able to make a lot of money from onshore and offshore wind farms. Also, Slovenia and the Czech Republic would be able to generate their own electricity from hydroelectric power stations thanks to their mountain rivers. Lastly, the possibilities with geothermal energy are worth exploring, as well as lesser-known renewable energy sources such as tidal and wave energy.

With the appointment of a ‘green’ mayor to the Hungarian capital city of Budapest, who is not affiliated with the governing party of Fidesz, at least there will be some fresh winds blowing through the eastern part of Europe. All the more so because, in his victory speech on 13 October, the brand new mayor promised not only to commit himself to a ‘green and free Budapest’, but also to strive for closer ties to Europe.

Emission-free shipping as of 2050: the question is how?

Ships in European waters and inland rivers are required to be emission-free by 2050. They need a radical makeover in order to accomplish this goal. Fuel oil and diesel? If all goes well, we will no longer hear or smell them when that time comes around. But just how shipbuilders and owners want to do that is a question that remained largely unanswered during a session at the European Innovation Days. This was where experts from the European shipping industry were supposed to advise European Commission officials.

Sensors make ships more autonomous

The idea was that recommendations would come out of it for the Horizon Europe investment program. Climate targets play an important role in this. However, as an example, R&D director Paolo Guglia of the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri (mega yachts, cruise ships and military vessels) elaborated mainly on the increase in the number of sensors on ships which aim to make them more autonomous. The helmsman has more data at his disposal than is currently available because of this. Which enables him to make better decisions. Consequently, he is less dependent on data sent from ashore – a factor that should contribute to safety. Not unimportant for a sector wherein accidents sometimes lead to negative publicity.

Good news therefore for the shipping industry. But for now that has little to do with greener ships, or so it seems. It is expected that the use of artificial intelligence and digitization of shipping will result in ships that are environmentally friendly, said Sinikka Hartonen, chairperson of the Shipowners’ Association in Finland. That means that a ship will be able to sail in a way which causes as little environmental damage as possible.

Which green technology will win out?

According to R&D manager Henk Prins of the MARIN research institute in Wageningen, it should be possible to operate emission-free inland waterway and coastal shipping as early as 2030. It was not entirely clear how. The problem is that it is not yet possible to predict which green technology will dominate the ships of the future. Hydrogen? Collecting the CO2 on board and transferring it to port? Any other ideas? I haven’t a clue. That is a problem for the shipping industry, as ships have a life span of around 30 years. Thus the question is if an investor intends to make a purchase at some point, what should they buy in order to remain competitive in the long term.

One way to avoid having to write off polluting ships prematurely is to ‘retro-fit’ them, as this is now called. New, green ships are on their way, of course. Yet existing ships can be refurbished with new, green technology. This will enable them to sail emission-free in due course.

Trouble ahead

A caveat to the innovation drive shown by the various shipping experts towards the Brussels officials came from Faig Abbasov, responsible for the shipping portfolio of the Transport & Environment NGO. He said that there is a problem around long-distance shipping if the EU makes rules that do not apply on an international level. Because there are countries that are able to just sail across the oceans on dirty fuels, which is presumably a lot cheaper. They will then be able to outdo their clean rivals in waters outside of Europe. The solution must come from the IMO, the UN body that makes the rules for international shipping. But there, too, Abassov sees trouble ahead. After all, what if a country in the UN does not adhere to the Paris Agreement targets for instance? Then the UN body will likely be a lame duck and shall consequently not succeed in implementing the stricter environmental rules for shipping throughout the world.