Further Steps Towards Greening the Inland Waterways Transport Sector

The Danube Region needs smart and sustainable growth based on an eco-efficient, reliable transport system. To this end, Pro Danube International acting on behalf of its members (logistics service providers, port and terminal operators, barge operators, shipyards) raises and leads projects in the region that contribute to the greening, modernization and digitalisation of the IWT sector. In line with the goals of its policy and business framework known as the “Green Deal for Danube River transport” whose implementation started with the DANTE and DAPhNE transnational projects, PDI has launched in 2018 the project GRENDEL meant to facilitate in a coordinated manner the transition to an energy efficient river fleet.      

In December 2019, the European Commission unveiled its key policy roadmap to achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050 – the European Green Deal (COM(2019) 640 final) which resets the Commission’s commitment to tackling climate and environmental related challenges, with the transport system playing a major role in the process.

Image: Pushed convoy on the Lower Danube (Source: TTS Romania)

The European Green Deal emphasises that inland waterways are a key enabler towards reducing the environmental footprint of the transport sector. A shift of a substantial part of the 75% of inland freight carried today by road to rail and inland waterways is requested. It is a widely acknowledged fact that in comparison to other modes of transport, IWT is by far the most environmentally friendly one in terms of both energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, in terms of infrastructure maintenance and related external costs IWT is one of the most economical modes of transport. The transition towards an energy-efficient and low-carbon economy as well as the increasing integration of inland waterway transport into multimodal supply chains are therefore two lasting trends and challenges for the inland waterway transport sector. 

Initiatives to increase and better manage the capacity of inland waterways shall therefore be intensified.

Continuous research and development in shipbuilding, ship machinery (e.g. engines, fuels, alternative propulsion, ship equipment), innovations in logistics (loading units, transhipment equipment and digitalisation of logistics processes), river information services, but also infrastructure maintenance is needed to maintain inland navigation as a competitive transport mode.

Analysing the European transport landscape, it becomes evident that general investments in IWT have been disproportionally low in comparison to those in road and rail. On the one side, this is because technological development is much faster incorporated in rail, road and air transport. Furthermore, it shall be kept in mind that inland vessels are extremely capital-intensive. While many operators – particularly in the Danube Region – can successfully run the day-to-day operations of their vessels, the lower margins hamper the uptake of innovative technologies.Projects like GRENDEL – GReen and EfficieNt DanubE fLeet (initiated and coordinated by Pro Danube) and STEERER – Structuring Towards Zero Emission Waterborne Transport (led by WATERBORNE TP, a sector initiative facilitating research and innovation for waterborne industries) are two important initiatives supporting vessel operators which are lacking the necessary fleet investment capacities (financial resources, skills and know-how)  to adapt the outdated fleet to a modern, well connected European transport system. GRENDEL addresses various fleet modernisation aspects, e.g. the creation of a widely harmonised state-aid scheme model for fleet modernisation which will be made available towards the end of 2020. Pro Danube represents the needs of the Danube fleet operators in the STEERER project covering the wider waterborne towards zero- emission transport, while greenhouse gas emissions, all harmful environmental emissions, water pollution and noise emissions shall be eliminated.Inland ports are also welcoming the Green Deal’s proposed actions on digital and smart logistics, boosting multimodality and shaping environmental and climate measures that apply across supply chains. Pro Danube is active in all these fields, not only by leading and participating in transnational projects, but also by directly consulting the European Commission, River Commissions and the other European branch organisations, as well as by feeding into the EU Strategy for the Danube Region and its dedicated priority areas. 


  • Policy framework triggering IWT sector modernization 
  • EU-funded projects facilitating innovation uptake by the sector

 This content was provided by Pro Danube Interational: www.prodanube.eu


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European Green Deal (COM(2019) 640 final), https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM%3A2019%3A640%3AFIN

DANTE – Improving Administrative Procedures and Processes for Danube IWT,  www.interreg-danube.eu/dante

DAPhNE – Danube Ports Network, www.interreg-danube.eu/daphne

Green Deal for Danube River Transport, Pro Danube International, September 2016

GRENDEL – GReen and EfficieNt DanubE fLeet (initiated and coordinated by Pro Danube), www.interreg-danube.eu/grendel

PDI- Pro Danube International, www.prodanube.eu 

STEERER – Structuring Towards Zero Emission Waterborne Transport, https://www.waterborne.eu/projects/coordination-projects/steerer/