The Market Observation annual report of the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR) builds on years of close cooperation with the European Commission. The 2023 edition portrays a difficult year 2022 for the European economy including for inland navigation. Overall, the global economic context darkened in 2022 for most of the Rhine and Danube countries. It faced, and still is facing, uncertainty given its exposure to a great deal of shocks, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the start of the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine in February 2022, with destructive consequences for many people. The aftermath of this war for Europe and its economy should not be underestimated. In fact, the global economy was characterised by high inflation in 2022, weakening of GDP growth, falling consumer confidence, oil price volatility, high gas prices, a global energy crisis, repressed demand, longstanding supply chain disruptions, and commodity price increases. It is also not without consequences for the inland navigation sector which has suffered from these difficult macroeconomic framework conditions. To name but a few, inflation further deteriorated the already weakened private consumption, which in turn had a negative impact on container transport. For bulk markets in Europe, rising energy prices translated into an increase of production costs. This negatively impacted bulk transport overall, with the exception of coal transport. Global trade was also negatively impacted by this situation as reflected in the throughput figures of major seaports such as the Port of Rotterdam or the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, which suffered a decline.
The low-water period in July and August 2022, on the Rhine in particular, came as an additional blow and had negative impacts on inland navigation transport. In fact, the occurrence of this low-water episode was a renewed reminder that this natural phenomenon is of urgent concern, with significant ecological, economic and social impacts. Such extreme weather conditions can limit efficient navigation on inland waterways in the short-term, while in the long-term, it might drive the modal choices of shippers away from inland navigation. Yet, the inland navigation sector has a vital role to play in achieving the ambitious modal shift and emission reduction targets in the transport sector that have been set at international level. Inland navigation will continue to be indispensable, especially for carrying large freight volumes or for the transport of heavy and oversized goods in the future. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight that the CCNR is committed to overcoming this challenge. In particular, it facilitates dialogue between the relevant industrial, logistical, political and environmental organisations and continuously monitors the impact of such low water events through market observation activities and its “Act now!” process. In this context, I am also very pleased to share this Foreword with Mr Helmut Habersack, President of the International Commission for the Hydrology of the Rhine basin (CHR) whose contributions are essential to address the low water problem.
In light of the challenges lying ahead, but also the expected transformation of inland navigation transport, under the impulse of important trends such as energy transition, the role of the CCNR Market Observation reports is more than ever essential. Indeed, the monitoring on a yearly basis of the European inland navigation market situation, as well as its evolution and structural development, supports decision-making at various levels for the benefit of European inland waterway transport (IWT).
In line with previous reports, the 2023 edition analyses macroeconomic conditions, national investments in inland waterway transport infrastructure, commodity prices, trend developments related to goods segments and river basins, IWT in ports, operating conditions related to water levels and freight rates, the fleet of inland vessels, employment, passenger transport and an outlook of the main inland navigation market segments.
In relation to transport on the Rhine, not only the cargo volumes transported on the traditional Rhine (from Basel to the German-Dutch border) were analysed, but for the first time, so were the volumes transported in the lower Rhine delta in the Netherlands. This was made possible thanks to the support of the Rijkswaterstaat. A comprehensive analysis regarding transport volumes on the Rhine from Basel to the North Sea will therefore be presented from now onwards in the annual reports. This enables a more detailed analysis to be produced per Rhine stretches, and to better grasp the dynamics regarding transport of goods per type of products along the Rhine. We are thankful for this new cooperation which can only improve the quality of our reports in the years to come.
It goes without saying that we would also like to thank all the contributors to this report, our long-standing partners with whom we always have the pleasure of cooperating: the Danube, Moselle and Sava Commissions, Eurostat and national statistical offices, ports, national and regional waterway administrations as well as professional organisations, in particular the European Barge Union (EBU), the European Skippers’ Organisation (ESO) and the Corporation of Inland Tanker Barge Owners (CITBO).
I hope that you will enjoy reading the 2023 edition of our annual report and that it will provide the insights you are awaiting.
Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR)
It is our great pleasure to write you a message in honour of the publication of the 2022 European Inland Navigation Market Observation report, presented by the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR).
The cooperation between the Commission for the Hydrology of the Rhine basin (CHR) and the CCNR goes back a long way. During the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the CHR in 2021, the two Rhine Commissions signed a renewed cooperation agreement. An important aim of this cooperation is to expand our knowledge on the effects of climate change and low water conditions. This knowledge is indeed an important basis for ensuring sustainable and future-oriented inland waterway shipping. And in addition, the recognition of the Commissions’ mutual observer status was once again confirmed.
We, as the CHR, are an organisation in which the scientific institutes of the Rhine riparian states formulate joint hydrological measures for sustainable development in the entire Rhine basin. The objective of the CHR is to expand knowledge of the hydrology in the Rhine basin and to contribute to the solution of cross-border problems. For this reason, the CHR members carry out joint research, exchange data, methods and information, develop standardised procedures and provide information systems as well as models.
Climate change and resultant low flows are part of our strategic research agenda, as such situations present critical threats to our catchment which we consider urgent and in serious need of improved knowledge and prediction. In addition, we seek to understand future socio-economic scenarios, as increasing water demand from nature, society and economic sectors will increase the risk of low water.
As in previous years, 2022 was another dry year with low water levels on the Rhine. Little precipitation in the Rhine basin, but also less meltwater from the Alps due to climate change affects these low flows. With its source in the Alps, the hydrological regime of the Rhine is influenced by meltwater in spring and summer. In recent years the CHR conducted a research project (known as ASG) on the proportion of snow and glacier melt in the Alps and how this affects the Rhine discharge and its tributaries. In doing so, we analysed the past 100 years, but also the next 100 years which represents the future development. Based on our used models and scenarios, we may assume that the total stream flow will be stable – also in the long run – and that the amount of water during low flows will remain in the familiar range during the next three decades, after which they will decrease quite rapidly over the next 50 years. The impacts of these changes are considerable and affect everyone who uses water along the Rhine: Rhine navigation and with it the important transport of goods will be affected as periods with impaired navigation in relevant sections will certainly get longer, but also power plants and electricity suppliers will not be able to produce so much electricity, and drinking water suppliers will have to prepare for more frequent water shortage situations.
In the coming years, the CHR will continue to focus on fundamental research related to climate change and low flows. We will certainly do this by taking into account the latest scientific insights such as the 6th IPCC report, regional climate scenarios, flash floods and extreme events such as droughts. Climate change is a major issue for the coming decades and requires answers to questions such as ‘how will high discharges develop?’ and ‘what do longer periods of drought mean for water use?’ A second topic is sediment management, which is important to navigation and where CHR will continue its analysis. Furthermore, socio-economics is a third theme on which CHR is working, and where navigation is naturally an important player. It is important that we anticipate and look to the future to determine what is needed and in which direction in order to support decision makers and the other commissions such as CCNR.
I would like to thank the CCNR Secretariat for their commitment and we very much look forward to continuing our collaboration in addressing the exciting challenges ahead.
Commission for the Hydrology of the Rhine basin (CHR)