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Barcelona Plans First “Emissions Tax” on Cruise Ships in 2023

emission tax on cruise ships in Barcelona
Barcelona is proposing an emissions tax on cruise ships starting in 2023 (file photo)

Published Jun 8, 2022 2:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

Ports around the world are grappling with the challenges of new regulations and the need to reduce carbon emissions from their operations. Barcelona has become the first to propose an “emissions tax,” specifically for cruise ships visiting its port. A popular cruise destination and one of Europe’s busiest ports, environmental activists have previously criticized Barcelona for having high levels of carbon emissions and air pollution.

“We expect to be able to present, in the coming weeks, the government’s proposal to regulate emissions in the port areas of Catalonia,” said Teresa Jordà, Minister of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda of the Government of Catalonia. Speaking in a session at parliament, Jordà said that Spain must act now to curb pollution levels. 

Specifics of the planned tax have not been announced, but it will be in addition to other taxes placed on tourists visiting the popular destination. Jordà reported that the Minister for Climate Action, Food and the Rural Agenda is working together with the Ministry of Economy to finalize the plan for the tax on cruise ships.

According to her statements in parliament today, the design calls for the cruise tax to be applied "progressively according to pollution levels" with a maximum level. The tax will be introduced in 2023.

In a 2019 report from the environmental NGO Transport & Environment Barcelona was placed at the top of a list of the ports with the highest sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides emissions. The report found that Barcelona suffered more air pollution from cruise ships than any other port in Europe with 32.8 metric tons, or 72,311 pounds, of sulfur oxide emitted in 2017.

The concept for the tax came in response to the pressures on ports to reduce emissions and a movement to limit the number of cruise passengers in popular destinations. Last month, the mayor of Barcelona proposed to the Ministry of Transport and the Port of Barcelona to form a committee to explore Palma’s recent moves to restrict the number of cruise ships as a means of addressing emissions in the city.

This comes as the cruise industry is already complaining that it is being unfairly penalized under pending climate initiatives. The industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association recently appealed to the International Maritime Organization for exemptions from the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) due to launch in 2023 for all types of ships. CLIA argues that because cruise ships spend more time in port and travel fewer miles than other sectors of commercial shipping that they are being penalized in the calculation. The CII is based on a ship’s CO2 emissions along with its miles traveled and capacity.

“Our call is for the CII formula to be adjusted so it does not unintentionally work against absolute carbon reduction by potentially incentivizing cruise ships to improve their rating by traveling greater distances,” CLIA said in its statement. 

The organization highlights the cruise industry’s broad efforts at addressing emissions while saying as the CII stands now it encourages ships to spend more time at sea which in turn would raise their emissions. Cruise ships have widely adopted scrubber technology and there is a growing number of ships being built to operate on LNG. Nearly all the new cruise ships being built today are also outfitted to employ shore power, although many of the destinations have not yet adopted the technology or lack the capacity on their electric grids to accommodate cruise ships.