Is shipping eco-friendly?
It is true that inland navigation emits less climate-relevant emissions per tonne-km transported than road transport, and in some cases possibly rail transport, but often nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide emissions are higher for ships. Also, transport of goods by ship may travel longer routes due to the natural courses of the river systems, although cargos usually require onward rail or road transport when one considers door-to-door service. Total trips and their corresponding emissions should be considered carefully.
There is potential to cut air pollutant emissions and improve fuel efficiency of vessels substantially, which should be achieved via new legislation. No matter how well navigation performs regarding greenhouse gas emissions, its share of the modal-split (only 6% EU-wide) and future potential is just not large enough to be of crucial importance for bringing total transport-related emissions down – transport emissions have gone out of control due to massive growth of road transport .
Inland navigation does have a role to play in addressing the need for relatively environmentally friendly transport in an increasingly integrated Europe. But what is needed is investment first and foremost in fitting ships to the river -- in technology, training, communications and logistics -- rather than fitting the river to the ships. The cost of the latter is prohibitive not only in financial but also environmental terms.