Proposals to control air pollution from barges have been adopted alongside other measures to boost rivers and canal transport.

The proposals are set out in a European Commission Communication, Towards quality inland waterway transport, which forms part of the new action programme designed to regulate the EU's inland waterway network. The Communication was formally approved by the European Parliament's Transport and Tourism Committed on 20 February 2014.

Plans to improve inland water transport will focus on the following objectives between 2014 and 2020:

The Commission is due to set emission limits for new vessel engines in 2014. The possibility of setting pollution limits for existing engines will also be explored in 2015/16. Port and waterway authorities across EU Member States are due to implement an alternative fuel strategy to increase the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuelled ships by 2016. Promote the skills of the workforce within the shipping sector. This Commission is responsible for reviewing the framework for obtaining professional qualifications, this includes considering new initiatives on recording equipment of crew and ship sailing experience. Improve the infrastructure quality and the integration of inland waterways into the logistics chain. Develop a new approach to governance in order to tackle the issue of overlapping legal frameworks and competences in the inland waterway sector.


An action programme was adopted by the European Commission in 2006 to promote inland water transport across the EU. The scheme, which was called the Navigation and Inland Waterway Action and Development in Europe (NAIADES), initially ran from 2006 to 2013. Key components of the NAIADES included measures to harmonise the technical requirements of vessels and funding instruments. 

Following expiration of the first programme, NAIADES II has been introduced to extend the policy until 2020 with added improvements. Part of the new action plan is to reduce air pollution from barges.

The package

In addition to the Communication mentioned above, the NAIADES II package consists of three other proposals:

A proposal for a new directive on technical requirements, which will enable the Commission to introduced revised standards for vessels operating on all EU inland waterways; A proposal for a new regulation on Community-fleet capacity. A staff working document, "Greening the fleet - reducing pollutant emissions in inland waterway transport". This sets out the impact assessment of future initiatives on the greening of waterway fleet.


This package represents a strong push from Brussels to boost the ports sector in the EU. For the UK, where ports are regulated by an intricate mix of bye-laws and Parliamentary acts, the action programme imposes new duties on statutory undertakers (namely Port companies) to play an active role in integrating the harmonising policies.

This package presents an ambitious step for the EU given the lack of explicit regulations to control the emission of CO2 and greenhouse gases from the inland shipping sector. However, whether NAIADES II will revolutionise the environmental quality of inland vessels will be tested by the market itself. The biggest challenge is the fact that inland barge engines have extremely long lifespans. For instance, bulk vessels can last up to 50 years. This has resulted in slow update of new engine fleet by operating companies. At this point, it remains unclear how the action plan will be implemented by the Commission. Businesses associated with the ports sector should keep a close watch for further developments of this package.   

We will continue to watch for further developments on the action programme and will publish any updates on this topic.