The Northwest ports of Vancouver, British Columbia, Tacoma, Seattle, and the combined container operations of The Northwest Seaport Alliance, are jointly committing to a new vision to phase out emissions from seaport-related activities by 2050. In a collaboration among the four ports, the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy seeks to meet this target through changes in equipment, fuels, and infrastructure, supporting cleaner air for local communities and fulfilling the ports’ shared responsibility to help limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“In order for us to meet these ambitious long-term targets that benefit the climate and surrounding communities, it’s essential that the state and federal government partner with the Ports to provide progressive policies and financial assistance that create incentives for their adoption prior to regulatory obligations,” said Fred Felleman, Port of Seattle commission president and co-chair of The Northwest Seaport Alliance. “Given the looming climate crisis, it’s also critical to recognize that we are committed to making near-term progress in collaboration with our business and community partners.”

“Even though maritime transport is an efficient means to move goods and people, the industry still relies on fossil fuels, and global growth in activity means that emissions overall are still on the rise,” said Dick Marzano, Port of Tacoma commission president and co-chair of The Northwest Seaport Alliance. “Through the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, ports have a blueprint to do their part by helping to protect air quality and responding to the international call to take action on climate change.”

“As Canada’s largest port, we are committed to supporting the Government of Canada’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Robin Silvester, president and chief executive officer of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. “The Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy is a key part of our efforts to advance the clean energy transition while protecting the competitiveness of the port and the economic prosperity it delivers to our communities.”

Building upon the partnerships and successes of the last decade, the ports’ commitment recognizes the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to reduce diesel emissions, especially in areas where air quality is poor while ensuring the continuity and competitiveness of the ports. Engagement across the ports, industry, government, and communities shaped the Strategy vision and objectives. The Strategy covers six sectors of port activity: oceangoing vessels, cargo-handling equipment, trucks, harbor vessels, rail, and port administration and tenant facilities.

Over the last decade, the Strategy has achieved significant results. The 2013 Strategy set targets to reduce diesel particulate matter (DPM) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per metric ton of cargo by 80% and 15%, respectively, relative to 2005 levels. The reductions can be attributed to changes in international, national, and provincial regulations, industry action, and port policies and programs to accelerate the turnover of older equipment and use of cleaner fuels.

Here are a few of the significant actions taken over the past decade:
There is more to do, as recent data suggest that GHG emissions from international shipping is increasing, not decreasing. According to the International Maritime Organization, GHG emissions from shipping increased 10% between 2012 and 2018 and are projected to increase by another 50% by 2050 if no additional actions are taken. Transitioning port and shipping activities toward low and zero-emissions options is a critical part of the urgent action needed to prevent the most devastating effects of warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius and will require efforts at a global scale.

  • NWSA’s Clean Truck Program has significantly decreased diesel emissions from trucks serving international container terminals in Seattle and Tacoma. Starting in 2019, all trucks entering these terminals must have a 2007 engine or newer, which have emission controls that reduce diesel particulate matter (DPM) emissions by 90%. The program is expected to reduce 33 tons of DPM annually.
  • Port of Seattle was the first port in the world to offer shore power at two cruise berths. Each cruise ship that plugs in at the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Terminal 91 avoids as much carbon dioxide as driving a car from Seattle to New York 30 times. The Port plans to install shore power at the Bell Street Cruise Terminal at Pier 66 by 2023.
  • The Northwest Ports advocated for the designation of the North American Emissions Control Area (ECA). Since 2015, the ECA has required ships to use 0.1% sulfur content in diesel fuel or have equivalent emission controls, reducing air pollutant emissions in the region.
  • Key initiatives that the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is advancing to reach its air emission reduction targets include incentivizing cleaner and quieter vessels through its EcoAction program, promoting the phase-out of older, high-emitting, diesel-powered equipment, and providing shore power connections at cruise and container terminals for ships to connect to clean, hydroelectric energy while docked.

Through the Strategy framework, Northwest Ports recognize their role in helping limit global warming and that continually reducing diesel emissions is critical for the health of local communities, especially in areas where environmental health disparities exist. Seaport-related activities contribute to regional and local air pollutant concentrations. Lower-income communities and communities of color are often located closer to pollution sources, amplifying the importance of improving air quality to advance social equity and environmental justice in communities adjacent to port activity.

Progress toward these objectives continues to be reported on and published in annual Implementation Reports. Air pollutant and GHG emissions from each sector are measured every five years in the Puget Sound Maritime Air Emissions Inventory for U.S. ports and in a port-wide inventory conducted by Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

The Northwest Ports will each release port-specific plans to implement the 2020 Strategy vision and objectives across their unique operations and businesses and will continue to report annually on the progress. Port-specific implementation plans enable ports to identify, prioritize, and focus resources on actions in a way that is strategic and relevant to their business and policy contexts, and the regions where they operate while still maintaining the long-standing collaborative effort.

Finally, ports cannot achieve this vision alone. The Northwest Ports look forward to continuing to collaborate with industry, governments, non-profits, communities, and other ports and partners to implement the Strategy and advance toward a zero-emissions future.