Ports and their Environmental Impacts


Since the IMO’s sulphur regulations came into force earlier this year, shipping lines have been under increasing pressure to lower their carbon emissions and comply with new environmental regulations. However, it isn’t just the shipping lines that have a responsibility to uphold, but the ports as well.

Environmental impacts were seen most prominently at the Port of Los Angeles recently, as increased congestion, caused by the labour strikes at a number of US West Coast ports led to ships staying at ports longer without using shore power. This had harmful effects on the environment, suggesting that ports need to tighten regulations. But how much of an impact do ports have on their immediate environments?

“Much depends on the local situation”, says Olaf Merk, Administrator of Ports and Shipping at the International Transport Forum, “e.g. river ports need to be dredged which can have impacts; some ports have a strong industrial character with the related impacts; some ports are close to urban areas so need to pay more attention; some ports have ship types that are much more polluting.

To read a Technical Paper by Olaf Merk on shipping emissions in ports, click here

“So it is difficult to generalise about the environmental impacts of ports, because “the port” does not exist; it is rather a variety of ports with different environmental challenges.”

(Source: iStock)

Some experts argue that it depends on the cargo volume of the ship calling at the port. Richard D. Cameron, Managing Director of Planning and Environmental Affairs, Port of Long Beach, said: “Depending on their cargo volume and location, seaports can have an impact on the air quality and therefore on the health of the community. At the Port of Long Beach, we’ve made it a top priority to reduce all of our environmental impacts, and to track our progress in doing so.”

As diverse as these issues are, ports in the EU are an example of how some port activities can have a massive impact on the local area. A case in point are the ports of Bremen and Hamburg, Germany, that could have their plans for expansion thwarted by the European Commission as a result of river dredging, which is posing a threat to local water quality.

Emissions in ports, particularly those emitted from ships, such as carbon dioxide, mono-nitrogen oxides and other harmful chemicals, are among the toxic elements to increase fourfold by 2050 (three fifths of which will be found in Asia and Europe), with no sign of a slowdown, as ships are said to be no more efficient than they were around two decades ago. So what solutions are available for ports in tackling this vast array of environmental impacts?

Richard D. Cameron said: “This year we are marking the tenth anniversary of the Green Port Policy, which is the Port of Long Beach’s commitment becoming a leader in environmental stewardship. The port has backed that commitment with an investment estimated at more than $500 million, our industry partners have spent even more, and the results have been clearly evident.

To read a Technical Paper on environmental innovation at the Port of Long Beach, click here

“We’ve seen an 82% reduction in diesel particulate exhaust from port-related sources in the last 10 years. Because of our ‘Clean Trucks Program’, we have 14,000 drayage trucks at work in the port that are from the year 2007 or newer. There are 78 acres of kelp beds in port waters. And it doesn’t end there. We are working on an update to our ‘Clean Air Action Plan’, and we are aiming to become a zero-emissions port.”

(Source: POLB)

A recent example of a port and terminal operator that is actively lowering carbon emissions at its port is Singapore’s Jurong Port, who will soon have the world’s first green berths, one of several initiatives taken to promote environmental sustainability. Portsmouth International Port has also spent around US$1.5 million on solar energy to reduce its impact on the environment – a contemporary method of reducing environmental harm that was voted the second most important way of protecting the environment in a recent PTI poll.

The Port of Long Beach is one of the few ports globally that is setting a new benchmark in environmental innovation by reducing diesel emissions by around 82% at various port sources and actively implementing this measure through its Green Port Policy, which has been in force for 10 years.

In summary, the effects of ports can be wide-ranging, depending on their location and the activities that are taking place either on site or locally. However, myriad options are available for lowering industrial emissions, such as reverting to solar energy. Lowering diesel emissions from larger vessels can also be achieved through shore power and ensuring that ships are reducing their speed upon arrival at ports, and therefore reducing the level of emissions given off in the immediate port environment.

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