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Environmental impacts of ports


While efficient ports are vital to the economic development of their surrounding areas, the related ship traffic, the handling of the goods in the ports and the hinterland distribution can cause a number of negative environmental impacts.

fishing boats ©

Shipping has an environmental impact both in ports, as well as in the immediate vicinity of the ports. Examples of these impacts are noise from ship engines and machinery used for loading and unloading, exhausts of particles, CO2, NOx and SO2 from the ship’s main and auxiliary engines, and dust from the handling of substances such as grain, sand and coal.

Road and rail traffic to and from the port area cause additional environmental problems.

The environmental impact of ports may thus be divided into three subcategories:

  1. problems caused by port activity itself;
  2. problems caused at sea by ships calling at the port; and
  3. emissions from inter-modal transport networks serving the port hinterland.
The OECD project examined the environmental impacts of international maritime transport in five ports:

Public authorities at various administrative levels have put in place a wide range of policy instruments to limit negative environmental impacts from ports in relation to: near-port shipping activities as such (e.g. limits on the sulphur content of the fuels that may be used, and requirements regarding the treatment of ballast water); the handling of the goods in the ports (e.g. emission standards for the handling equipment, and limits on permitted noise levels); and the transport of the goods to the hinterland (e.g. emission standards for vehicles used in the transport, and investments in better road and rail infrastructure).



Environmental Impacts of
International Shipping:
The Role of Ports

Environmental Impacts of International Shipping

The types of instruments applied varies significantly and includes: “soft” instruments like information provision; investments in new road and port infrastructure; bans on certain activities (e.g. on the use of antifouling containing biocides); standards on input use (e.g. on sulphur contents in fuels), technologies to be applied (e.g. double-hulls on tankers) and emissions (e.g. regarding goods-handling equipment); and various sorts of economic incentives (e.g. differentiated port dues).

In many cases, economic instruments can provide more flexibility for polluters to find low-cost opportunities to reduce negative environmental impacts than what bans and standards do. As mentioned, a number of economic instruments are being applied to address negative environmental impacts of port – and the related shipping – activities. However, the economic instruments used in this sector are generally of a often of a “prescriptive” nature and are unlikely to change the fundamental economic incentives that generate innovations to address the underlying environmental problems at a lower cost. One reason for this is the lack of a global framework for addressing environmental impacts of international shipping, making it difficult for individual countries to take action that would “internalise” the climate change impacts (e.g. by putting in place a carbon tax on bunkers). Another reason arises from the difficulties involved in monitoring and enforcing such actions (for example, a tax on the real SO2, NOx, or noise emissions from each ship).

The objective of the study was primarily to collect and compare experiences of environmental impacts stemming from port activities and to provide examples of policies used to address these impacts. While it is difficult to identify “best practices” for all the environmental impacts that port activities generate, introduction of shore-side electricity supply is identified as a specific measure that would have the advantage of reducing several negative impacts simultaneously, such as SO2, NOx and particulates emissions, noise and, possibly, CO2 emissions.

In countries where electricity generation is covered by a “cap-and-trade” system for CO2 emissions (e.g. in the EU), the latter would be the case, regardless of how the electricity used to supply the ships is produced, as long as the “cap” of the trading system remains unchanged. An important obstacle to a broader use of shore-side electricity is, however, that electricity systems vary between countries, both in terms of voltage and frequency. And it is not enough to make shore-side electricity available, unless ships are obliged to use it, they have few incentives to do so.

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