Ports urged to take greater role in reducing shipping emissions

Ship emissions seen in a port in Southern France. Credit: Getty Images
Ship emissions seen in a port in Southern France. Credit: Getty Images

Paris-based think tank International Transport Forum has called for more ports to adopt incentive schemes to encouraging shipping companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But it added that ports already operating emission reduction incentive schemes needed to improve their models and gather more information about their impact.

The forum, which describes itself as a politically autonomous body administered as part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said about one-third of the world’s 100 leading cargo ports currently operated financial emissions reduction incentive schemes but that very little was known about the effects they were having on shipping emissions.

It argued that, despite this absence of data, it was clear that the impact of port emissions reduction incentive schemes on global shipping emissions was minimal.

“The number of ports deploying financial incentives is still fairly low,” it said in a report, “and where they are applied, only a handful of ships are benefiting from the schemes – often less than 5% of the ships calling the port.”

In addition, it said, the difference between the fees paid by the dirtiest and cleanest ships was generally small – between 5 and 10%. “Any incentives shipowners may have to order more efficient ships with lower emissions can only to a very small extent be a result of savings from port-based incentives.”

Ports have already played a major role in assisting the shipping industry to make the transition to cleaner shipping. Greenhouse gas emissions reduction schemes could play an important supporting role, it said.

To ensure this was the case, the International Transport Forum said the role of ports needed to be recognised at IMO level and ports themselves needed to have a wider range of incentives to reward operators of green vessels. More emphasis also needs to be put on the monitoring, reporting, and verification of the results of such schemes, it insisted.

The forum also argued in favour of basing port emissions reduction incentive schemes on ships’ real greenhouse gas emissions performance at sea rather than on their impact on local pollution levels, as is often the case now.

“None of the existing green port fees takes actual greenhouse gas emissions as a base for the fee reduction,” it said. “Improved data collection at ship level makes it increasingly possible to assign accurate estimates of greenhouse gas emissions to individual ships. This opens the possibility of financial incentives at port level based on actual emissions of the ship during its voyage.”

It also recommended application of the ‘polluter pays’ principle in determining the port fees paid by individual ships. At present, it said, ports tend to offer rebates for ships generating lower emissions but have shown themselves unwilling to introduce schemes that would ensure these rebates are paid for by ships with poor emissions performances.

Greater differentiation in the port charges paid by individual vessels on the basis of their real emissions performances would help the shipping industry decarbonise more quickly, it said.

The report also pleaded for greater harmonisation of ports’ emissions reduction incentive schemes but noted that, at present, there were simply not enough ports operating such schemes to make it a viable option.