Ushering in the sustainable tide for ports

EcoPorts sustainability report 2017

Isabelle Ryckbost, secretary general of ESPO, discusses the findings of ESPO’s 2017 Sustainability Report and how the green transition within shipping can be overseen.

The mission of the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) is to influence policy decisions within the EU, in efforts to ensure that the European port sector is safe, efficient, and environmentally sustainable. Under this, one of ESPO’s specific aims is to take on a proactive role in encouraging ports to protect the environment which they operate within.

In November 2017, the EcoPorts network — the main environmental initiative of the European port sector integrated into ESPO’s operations — released their annual sustainability report, which outlines the top ten environmental concerns of ports. Isabelle Ryckbost, secretary general of ESPO, spoke to Government Europa about to the findings of the sustainability report and how the green transition within shipping can be overseen.

How does ESPO propose that the problems identified in the Sustainability Report of 2017 — such as air quality, rate of energy consumption, and noise and water quality — can be countered?

Our sustainability report outlines, amongst others, the top ten priorities of the ports, including what the ports see as their main environmental concerns. If it is a prevalent environmental concern, port authorities are likely to address it themselves, identifying how they can do so as well as facilitating the mitigation of these issues. As a result, in the first place it’s the responsibility of the port authority. Although there are legislative frameworks at both European and national levels, on top of these, ports are following their own strateies to mitigate environmental issues. What we see is that air quality and energy are amongst the most prevalent concerns. The new sulphur limits in the north of Europe (ECA countries) have clearly delivered great results for those around the port; if you look at air quality, it is something that is important for ports because it affects and impacts directly on the people living around the port and on relations with the surrounding community.

The concerns in relation to energy consumption as indicated in the sustainability report are related to climate change discussions and debate, as well as the Paris Agreement. EU climate law sets out the contribution each member state has to make to implement the Paris Agreement; for some industry sectors, their contribution is laid down in EU legislation, but for others action will be complemented with national measures. In principle, port activities will be addressed in that respect. Ports are part of member states’ national strategy to reduce climate related CO2 emissions, but also contribute to the efforts of regions and cities at a local level. As a result, that means that they also have to promote policy on land, and in shipping.

On the land side, the main concerns expressed in the sustainability report are the CO2 emissions produced from port operations and industries in the port. However port operations are, in most cases, in private hands, therefore ports can only stimulate interest in these reductions. On the ship side, ESPO is pleading for a global reduction target and for the measures to implement such to be defined at the level of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). What we are also seeing is that there are several initiatives running across different ports:

  • The Port of Piraeus has taken an initiative regarding solar power;
  • The Port of Rome are part of a project where waves are converted into electricity; whilst
  • The Port of Helsinki are performing an energy review every four years to see how they are improving and how their carbon footprint is improving throughout this time.

Almost one in two European ports already implement schemes to measure their
carbon footprint.

How are the tools of EcoPorts — the Self Diagnosis Method (SDM) and Port Environmental Review System (PERS) — aiding green practices within ports and harbours?

The SDM is a set of around 250 questions, whereby ports can measure, or compare, their results against an EU average; there are around 90 EcoPort members. Therefore, if you have your results, you can reflect on these in comparison to the average of those members. These questions are wide ranging and concern all aspects of sustainability, including:

  • Do you have an environmental manager?
  • Do you have an environmental report?
  • Do you have on-shore power supply in your port?
  • Do you have liquefied natural gas (LNG) refueling facilities?

As a result, ports can really identify where they are situated in relation to the average and this is a very good exercise for all ports as it can open their eyes, whilst also providing a timeline for change. It functions as an awareness raising activity — if ports are above the average this is really a unique selling point, but if they are not, environmental managers are empowered with the information to ring the bell and initiate change through investment and other means.

We see that certification is taken very seriously, and the PERS certificate is taken into account by the World Bank, or even EIB, in the assessment of financial instruments for ports. The profile of all individual ports is continuously moving towards increased sustainability. Both the SDM and PERS certificate expire every two years, therefore certification is assessed every two years to check whether the environmental management of ports meets the requirements. It’s a continuous effort on behalf of the ports to stay up to date.

How are port authorities encouraging and supporting the green transition within shipping?

There is a legal framework whereby ports will have to have LNG refueling facilities because LNG is certainly one of the ways to improve the sustainability of shipping and to move forward towards cleaner fuels. On the other hand, there is the issue of on-shore power supply where ports are really investing in this area. We see that one fifth of our ports, according to our survey, have on-shore power supply, but this is evolving and improving each time. We see, for instance, when it comes to LNG bunkering in ports that 22% of ports provide LNG bunkering facilities in the port. In a few years’ time they will need to have it, but step by step it is improving.

The Port of Zeebruges, Belgium, has ship-to-ship energy bunkering operations now, and they had the first purpose built LNG bunkering vessel. A lot of things are happening, as we have highlighted in our sustainability report, and this is very important.

What are the future priorities of ESPO in striving for fully-enforced green shipping in ports? What is required at a policymaking level to cement this?

Ports are trying to facilitate the green energy transition at land level. What seems to be a challenge at the same time is that it is an opportunity, i.e. making the transition from oil powered transport to other energy sources, as well as in the wider economy. However, we must acknowledge that energy accounts for 40% of all the commodities which go in and out of ports. Energy is really an important business for the ports and the challenge and opportunity lies with the uptake of renewable and all other sources of energy within the circular economy.

The question is whether ports can play an equally important role in the supply of other sources of energy, for instance energy refueling systems and on-shore power supplies are very important. Meanwhile on the shipping side, it is very important that ports take action on CO2 and a potential strategy would be to aim to establish a reduction target for CO2 emissions. This is not a plan for eternity, but there are deadlines in order to ensure that there are concrete plans for CO2 reduction limits across the entire shipping sector.

What is important to know is that ports are doing a lot, and try to do a lot, but are not always fully in control. As ports facilitate business in the port, and ship owners are coming into the port (as their customers), ports cannot always be in the driving seat. What we see at the same time is that ports are addressed as the stakeholders who can take responsibility and drive change for all other sectors. However, engagement towards the local community is one of the main priorities, therefore ports put in a lot of effort. Ports serve both public and commercial interests simultaneously.

How can waste in the ocean be addressed?

We have a new proposal that came out in January on waste reception facilities – a framework that aims to discourage ship owners to discharge waste at sea. European policymakers want to work towards a more efficient system, building upon the success of the current system which contributed significantly to limiting the waste gap to a large extent over the last 15 years. Ship owners have really delivered much more waste on–shore, and in the ports, than before. The European Commission says that for garbage there is still somewhere between 7-34% that is not delivered at ports. The current system was built on an “indirect” fee system, saying that irrespective of whether the ship owner is delivering waste to the ports or not, they will pay a certain fee, of which stimulates the delivery of waste to the port.

Now, the proposal seeks to have a full indirect fee for all garbage waste that includes different categories going from plastics to household waste, as well as some types of dangerous waste. This means that a ship owner will be able to bring in an unlimited amount of waste for a fixed fee. Ultimately, the port authority will have to receive unreasonable quantities of waste and pay the difference between the fee and the real cost. We believe that this approach is not tackling the responsibility to limit waste at its source. We certainly want to help and we think that a fixed fee for a normal category of waste could be workable, but if ship owners go beyond that we think an additional fee should be paid. The ship owners themselves agree that it is a more reasonable approach. As port authorities, we are sometimes in-between – trying to invest, to do our best – but ports cannot pay the full bill. We do not always have the leverage to change behaviours. This should also be recognized.

Isabelle Ryckbost
Secretary General
European Sea Ports Organisation


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