Bold move on coal

Ousted: the end is in sight for Amsterdam's coal terminals. Credit: Marcel Oosterwijk Ousted: the end is in sight for Amsterdam's coal terminals. Credit: Marcel Oosterwijk

COMMENT: Last month, Port of Amsterdam took a bold move for a landlord port authority: it announced its ambition to end handling coal by 2030, writes Peter de Langen.

At almost 20m tonnes, coal still accounted for 25% of Amsterdam’s total throughput of around 80 million tonnes in 2014. It also accounted for a substantial part of the revenues of the port authority. 

Clearly, the throughput of coal is declining due to a shift away from coal-fired power plants, and the coal-hungry steel industry is stagnating in North-West Europe. The UK - which is sometimes served by Dutch ports - announced its intention to close coal-fired power plants in 2025, while the Netherlands also agreed to close down some coal-fired power plants. So coal is already a declining segment.

In 2016, Amsterdam handled 16m tonnes of coal. Consequently, the port’s two coal terminals were unhappy with the announcement.

There are, in my view, two main interpretations of this move. First, some might argue that as the port authority, Amsterdam does not operate the terminal and has no influence on the use of coal, hence it is not in the position to set such an ambition. On the other hand, the port authority as the developer of the port complex has to make choices to make sure that the ‘portfolio’ of activities in the port complex is viable in the long run.

To be the ‘last port standing’, that is the last port that handles coal, is not an attractive prospect. It is doubly unattractive for a metropolitan port such as Amsterdam, which has a large capacity to develop new economic activities at brownfield sites.

I believe that Port of Amsterdam took the right step in setting this ambition; it provides clarity to all stakeholders and also is a platform for attracting new activities, shaping Amsterdam’s future as a post-fossil era metropolitan port.

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