World Ports Climate Conference Generates Commitment to Reduce CO2 Emissions


Richard M. Larrabee
“Climate change is having a direct impact on all of us, particularly ports, whether it’s the weather, the current storms or a rise in water levels…"
Richard M. Larrabee Director, Port Commerce
Representatives of 55 ports from more than 35 countries have endorsed the World Ports Climate Declaration, agreeing to reduce CO2 emissions to improve air quality and combat global warming.

“Most of the major ports are committed to an aggressive approach to dealing with greenhouse gases,” says Port Commerce Director Richard M. Larrabee who attended the World Ports Climate Conference in Rotterdam in July. “Most of the ports went home with the attitude that this is something they had to focus on.”

International port officials realize that ships, terminal operations and inland operations contribute to the creation of greenhouse gases and criteria air pollutants because most of them operate on fossil-based fuels. They’re also aware of what Larrabee called “a collective body of evidence” suggesting that greenhouse gases are contributing to climate change. “Climate change is having a direct impact on all of us, particularly ports, whether it’s the weather, the current storms, or a rise in water levels,” he said.

The Port Authority of NY-NJ and other ports are in the process of categorizing and quantifying pollutants, and their sources. Once a baseline is established, the Port will develop strategies for reducing greenhouse gasses and criteria air pollutants. The latter are pollutants for which acceptable levels of exposure can be determined, and for which an ambient air quality standard has been set. Examples include ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

The Port Authority of NY-NJ is taking the lead in development of a clean air strategy, Larrabee said. It will involve all stakeholders as well as the NY Department of Environmental Conservation, NJ Department of Environmental Protection and federal agencies, especially the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We believe there’s enough incentive to do things on an almost voluntary basis,” Larrabee said. Meeting standards that have yet to be set may make doing business more expensive at first because of the price of low-sulfur fuels and technological modifications. However, the long-term impact is likely to mean savings, in the same way that replacing old appliances with energy-efficient ones cuts costs for homeowners.

“We’re doing work now with the EPA and terminal operators, using electric motors on yard hustlers,” he said, explaining that the conventional tractors used to move containers around the port today account for approximately 40 percent of port emissions. “Using that kind of technology, we think we can reduce emissions and amount of fossil fuel consumed, and reduce the cost of operations. It’s an elegant solution.”

Other similarly simple solutions may come from adopting, or learning from, the best practices of other ports, Larrabee said. Rotterdam, a large petrochemical port, is looking at ways of capturing CO2 and storing it in the ground. “I take my hat off to them,” Larrabee said. “They’re being very innovative and very serious.”

That’s the kind of thing that’s part of the overall strategy… to move cargo more efficiently because it reduces pollution

Closer to home, after complaints by local residents of respiratory problems, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been very aggressive in efforts to reduce the emissions from land-side transportation. To curtail similarly sourced emissions here, Larrabee suggested the Port might develop programs to provide low-cost loans for modifying or changing truck engines or for new equipment.

The goal is to curtail emissions so there isn’t the kind of outcry and governmental intervention that occurred in Los Angeles. “In that case, it becomes a crisis, and you lose control of it,” he said.

Fortuitously, the current port renovations will help reduce emissions. Larrabee said that by the time the port finishes in 2011, it will have spent $600 million to enhance the Port’s on-dock rail facilities, which will decrease the number of trucks on local highways. “That’s the kind of thing that’s part of the overall strategy,” Larrabee said, “to move cargo more efficiently because it reduces pollution.” Moving more cargo by barge to inland waterway ports would further reduce emissions as well as fuel costs.

Future goals include the development of an indexing system, one that would allow an internationally consistent assessment and rating of the environmental footprint of any one ship or terminal. Those meeting or beating emissions standards would be recognizable, perhaps a green flag, in much the way appliances have an Energy Star sticker.

“If it was a ship doing everything possible to operate in the best environmental way, we might provide a financial incentive,” Larrabee said. “You’d like to be able to provide a similar set of guidelines for each port, so if a ship calls at Rotterdam and then at New York/New Jersey, you’d like to have in place similar incentives.”