Green ports: from trade-offs to win-wins



Olaf Merk, Administrator, Ports and Shipping, the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Paris, France


Let me introduce you to the Jamaican Iguana. Almost extinct twenty years ago, but now making a spectacular come back in the Portland Bight nature reserve in Jamaica – considered a success story by nature conservationists. But this is a success story under threat, because the China Harbour Engineering Company wants to build a port in this exact nature reserve. See here the trade-off: do you want a port? Or an iguana? This is not an isolated case. There are similar stories for port directors in OECD countries: there is always a bird, frog or some rare species of grass that needs to be protected. This can be an absolute trade-off, but more and more often forms of compensation are applied. So, ports have built islands for birds, replaced frogs and created nature reserves in or close to port areas. This has become such a trend that the most valuable urban nature areas are now, in most cases, located in and around ports. This article states that the most advanced ports move from trade-offs to win-wins, creating synergies between ports and the environment. There are four ways in which this can be done.

Greening as pre-condition

This approach is based on a concrete reality in many ports: new development is only possible if the port is green. The San Pedro Bay, with the two largest US ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, is an illustration in point. Both ports can now been considered as the greenest in the world. The 2006 San Pedro Bay Clean Air Action Plan, with its various updates, has been widely hailed as a global best practice in being comprehensive, ambitious and effective in combating the air pollution emitting from the ports. However, this is the result of a tumultuous history of local opposition against port activity, stressing the disastrous health effects of port trucks passing through what were labelled ‘diesel death zones’ just next to the ports. It took a court case to oblige the ports to become cleaner before further expansion of the port could be considered. Therefore, greening ports became a pre-condition for further development. This is a story that has been repeated in other ports. The details may be different, but the story was the same: the only way to unblock local opposition against port activity was to become clean. A new ‘natural port law’ was thus born: as countries advance, ports can only sustain their functions if they are sustainable – that is, if they are green.

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