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EU emissions trading: superyachts remain tax-free


The EU has agreed to expand emissions trading. Ship traffic will also be included in the future. But after NDR– Information, there will be further exceptions – including for large yachts.

350 liters, 500 liters or even more than 1000 liters of diesel per hour. Yachts consume enormous amounts of fuel – and as a rule, the larger the ship, the more diesel and correspondingly large amounts of greenhouse gases. In an hour’s sailing, many of the larger yachts blow more than a tonne of CO2 and other climate-damaging gases into the air. Most so-called superyachts weigh thousands of tons a year. In comparison: On average, a person in Germany causes around eleven tons of greenhouse gases a year.

Nevertheless, yacht owners or renters continue to benefit from an exception rule in CO2 emissions trading. Since 2005, some large industrial companies have had to buy certificates for their emissions, and since 2012 airlines for intra-European flights too. At the end of last year, the EU agreed to expand this system.

Exception for “leisure boats”

In the future, road traffic and buildings will also be recorded. The expansion of emissions trading to include shipping, which has now been decided, is seen by many as a major breakthrough. However, only very large passenger and cargo ships from 5000 gross register tons are considered for the time being. From 2024, CO2 certificates must be purchased for them step by step.

However, this does not apply to “non-commercial operators or purely leisure boats,” said the EU Commission at the request of the NDR with – regardless of size. So even a billionaire doesn’t have to buy CO2 rights for a huge ship if he uses it himself. The emissions are enormous.

“Superyachts” emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases

The two US scientists Beatriz Baros and Richard Wilk, among others, have investigated this. They analyzed the emissions of 20 billionaires worldwide. “Among the many billionaire properties, large ‘super yachts’ are by far the largest emitters of greenhouse gases,” write Baros and Wilk.

“Super-rich yacht owners cause more pollution on a summer’s day than most people in their entire lifetime, yet politicians continue to let them get away with it,” said Jacob Armstrong of the non-governmental organization Transport & Environment. He analyzed the total amount of greenhouse gases that yachts are responsible for. According to this, there are around 1,500 larger yachts in Europe that emit an average of around 725 tons of CO2 per year. They would remain exempt from emissions trading, Armstrong said.

Charter yacht owners have to pay

However, the EU Commission points out that not all large yachts are used by the owners themselves, but some are also offered for charter. They are therefore used commercially. And some of these ships are expected to fall under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, the Commission writes. However, she does not say how many there are. There should be very few.

In the top lists of the largest yachts in the world there are perhaps five ships of this size available for charter. For example, even the more than 105 meter long yacht called “Dream” falls below the 5000 gross register ton limit and therefore does not have to participate in certificate trading – despite the enormous CO2 emissions.

The yacht has a pool, spa, cinema, helipad, 22 luxury cabins and a crew of more than 30 people. According to a yacht charter site, she can be rented from two million euros per week. With its 290,000 liter tank, it can travel up to 6,300 miles (about 11,666 kilometers) at a speed of 13 knots, the site says. This corresponds to a consumption of 2500 liters per 100 kilometers – and more than 6.5 tons of CO2.

“Bureaucratic effort too great”

The reason given by the EU for why such ships may be left out of emissions trading is that large cargo and passenger ships above the 5,000 gross register ton limit are responsible for 90 percent of emissions in shipping. In order to record smaller ships as well, the bureaucratic effort is too great.

The MEP Peter Liese from the CDU was involved in the negotiations on emissions trading. He says the European Parliament has proposed a different rule. Accordingly, individual ship owners should not report their emissions. Instead, the CO2 price should simply be added to the fuel consumed – similar to what is already happening in road traffic in Germany.

The CDU MEP Liese was unable to push through the proposal to levy taxes on fuel.

Image: picture alliance / Geisler-Fotop

But that would have been rejected by the other EU institutions, the Council and the Commission. According to Liese, they argued that there was “too much administrative effort”. Because the aim was obviously always not to burden owners of smaller private boats, fishermen or operators of island ferries with any additional costs. And it is practically impossible to distinguish who is filling up the tank – that’s how the Council and Commission put it, says Liese. “That’s why we weren’t able to push through the position of the EU Parliament, which I think makes sense.”

The EU has also provided a size limit for another regulation intended to reduce CO2 emissions in shipping, the “ReFuel Maritime” initiative. Here, too, only ships of 5,000 gross register tons or more should be taken into account. Rasmus Andresen of the Greens says his party has campaigned for this value to be lowered. Unfortunately, conservatives, liberals and social democrats would not have supported it. “We will continue to fight to ensure that the decarbonization of shipping is fair and comprehensive,” says Andresen. “Anyone who can afford a yacht can also afford to make his or her contribution to climate protection.”

But for the time being this is not the case. Exception rules will also remain in place for private jets. Here, too, many operators fall below the thresholds above which they would have to purchase emission allowances. If you use a jet privately or for your own company, you can emit up to 1000 tons of CO2 free of charge. For commercial operators, such as charter companies, the limit is even 10,000 tons.

A few rich people can therefore continue to travel in an extremely CO2-intensive way without paying additional costs, whereas road traffic, for example, will be included in emissions trading throughout Europe in the future. “This unequal treatment is really amazing and very unfair,” says Armstrong of the NGO Transport & Environment.