The Scottish Green Party plans to introduce a new tax levy on cruise ships nationwide in an effort to reduce carbon emissions and raise additional funds for local councils. The announcement was made during the party conference held in Dunfermline on Monday, October 30, 2023.

In partnership with the Scottish government and local authorities, Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater announced the intention to introduce the new levy, but with few details yet confirmed.

The idea is that the new taxes would become investment funds in port communities, supporting local retailers and residents that host cruise ship visits. It is also hoped that the taxes might encourage ships to invest more heavily in zero-emission vessels or other environmental upgrades.

“We will work with our partners in Local Government to empower Councils to charge visiting cruise ships a levy,” said Slater. “It will mean communities hosting cruise ships get the investment they deserve, and our aim would also be to encourage greener ships.”

Cruise Ship Visiting Port in Scotland (Photo Credit: ATGImages)

While details of how the levy would be assessed are not yet determined, these intentions seem to indicate a rate that may vary based on ship size, passenger capacity, emissions ratings, or other factors, which could mean different rates for different ships. The length of a visit, time of year, and other factors may also impact levy rates.

“From Ullapool to Greenock, Kirkwall to Edinburgh, Stornoway to Rosyth and many more besides, this will make a massive difference in supporting communities,” said Mark Ruskell, Scottish Greens transport and environment spokesperson. “For all the benefits tourism brings, pressure on infrastructure, services, and how lives of locals in port areas are impacted need properly targeted help and this helps.”

It is no surprise that cruise ships can have tremendous impacts – both positive and negative – on the communities they visit. While ship visits can be an economic boom to a region with port fees, taxes, and spending from both guests and crew members who go ashore, it is also easy for a large vessel to overwhelm a small port community with a sudden influx of thousands of travelers at once.

Furthermore, more and more communities are citing environmental concerns as reasoning to limit or otherwise control cruise ship visits.

Photo Credit: Steve Cordory / Shutterstock

Slater stated the idea that “one ship produces the same amount of carbon emissions as 12,000 cars” – a figure without reference as to its authenticity other than to say “a recent study” determined the comparison. It is true, however, that docked ships that still use their engines do produce large amounts of pollutants, a problem that more and more communities are seeking to eliminate.

A similar bold figure was mentioned in New York City in September during a rally in support of a law to require cruise ships to hook up to shore power.

What would people say if right behind us, right now, there were 34,400 trucks idling?” asked city councilmember Erik Bottcher said at the rally near the Red Hook cruise terminal on Monday, September 18. “There’d be a lot of cameras here right now, and guess what? Something would be done about it. But that’s how much pollution is being generated by these ships.”

Neither vehicle-comparison number is immediately referenced by a study title or other reporting.

Despite the benefits that can be had from cruise ship visits, many European communities are seeking to limit visits to protect their communities and local environments from potentially harmful or overwhelming impacts.

For example, Barcelona began implementing a partial ban on cruise ships on October 22, 2023, no longer permitting ships to dock at the northern docks closer to the city center.

Photo Courtesy: Peel Ports Group

Venice has implemented an even stronger ban on cruise ships, no longer permitting any vessels at its docks at the famous St. Mark’s Square. That ban has been in place since August 2021 and is intended not only to curb excessive tourism and pollution, but also to preserve the delicate nature of the City of Bridges.

Another popular Scottish destination, the Orkney Islands, is also investigating limits on cruise ships to better balance the desires of tourists with the needs of local residents, but without an outright ban.

It isn’t just in Europe that cruise ship limits and bans are being implemented or considered. Ports of call in Alaska, Maine, and Florida are all in different stages of cruise ship restrictions, with varying degrees of success and support.

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