(Forward with Toll is a news-based website on the latest developments on global supply chain management. The story is based in part on the talk by Robert Gottlieb and Simon Ng at Green Drinks, on September 13, 2017)

A leading environmental campaigner and co-author of a new book focused on transportation issues in Hong Kong and Los Angeles has called on other ports to follow their lead and reduce sulphur emissions from ships.

This call to action comes soon after criticism during the International Chamber of Shipping conference in London about the industry’s commitment to improving its environmental standards and pollution control.

Speaking at a panel discussion in Hong Kong alongside co-author Robert Gottlieb to promote their new book, Global Cities, Urban Environments in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and China, Simon Ng said, “Hong Kong was the first Asian port to regulate ship emissions. The Fair Winds Charter is a model that combines scientific evidence and stakeholders’ engagement into real action that eventually drives policy change and emission reduction. This is a winning model that other ports should consider, especially those in Asia.”

In Hong Kong, the Fair Winds Charter (2011-2014) was an industry-led initiative that saw sea-going vessels switching to low sulphur fuel while at berth, explained Ng. It was a voluntary initiative that moved into regulation in 2015 amid industry calls to create a level playing field, modelling the Fair Winds Charter, thereby making Hong Kong the first Asian port to regulate ship emissions.

Simon Ng is an independent consultant and former Chief Research Officer at Civic Exchange, a public policy think tank in Hong Kong that continues to be a key influencer in port-related environmental initiatives. He co-authored the book with Robert Gottlieb, an Emeritus Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and founder and former Director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, Los Angeles.

Gottlieb observed during the discussion, “Transportation is a key factor behind all the environmental issues for Hong Kong, Los Angeles and urban regions of China.”

He then described how communities in Los Angeles residing near the port, and along transportation corridors emanating from the port, were affected by poor air quality levels and fought lengthy court battles to alter industry thinking. This political quagmire eventually produced some concrete policy initiatives and a collaborative approach which he and Ng are keen to champion.

Ng stressed during the lively panel discussion, “The Clean Air Action Plan enacted in 2006 by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is a ground-breaking approach for competing ports to join hands in addressing ship and port induced air pollution. It is a model for other ports to follow.”

These comments are instructive as Hong Kong itself had used the environmental initiative in Los Angeles as a template for “the importance and feasibility of port and ship emission reduction initiatives”. Measures Hong Kong introduced in ship emissions control, in turn, acted as an impetus for change for ports in China, according to Ng.

China had been behind the curve, but conscious of its perceived poor record in pollution control, has recently introduced stringent environmental policies. The government has made the 0.5% sulphur content rule mandatory for ships berthed at many of its ports.

Furthermore, the Pearl River Delta Domestic Emissions Control Area (PRD DECA) requirements, which come into force in January 2019, will compel vessels to use 0.5% sulphur fuel as soon as they enter the Delta catchment, not just while berthed at the port.

Many bodies in Hong Kong are supportive of the moves by the Hong Kong SAR Government to align Hong Kong’s regulations with these PRD DECA requirements.

Arthur Bowring, senior consultant, Hong Kong Shipowners Association, stresses a collaborative approach with mainland Chinese authorities is essential. He supports moves to further reduce the sulphur content in vessels operating in the PRD DECA to 0.1% by the end of 2019, including ships traversing through Hong Kong waters.

However, by way of a submission to the October 2017 Hong Kong SAR Government Policy Address to be delivered by the new Chief Executive, the Business Environment Council Limited, a leading membership organisation that promotes environmental excellence, expressed support for the PRD DECA initiative but warned against complacency concerning emissions from shipping and local Hong Kong vessels.

Their submission did not mince words, “We consider there is still more to be done as Hong Kong’s air quality still does not meet WHO health standards.”

Turning once again to the book panel discussion, the authors remain to be convinced about China’s commitment to change. They fear the rapid growth of its ports and economy in general “will either continue to overwhelm any environmental initiatives or will instead elevate the types of environmental approaches needed to address the impacts already identified from those developments,” as articulated in their book.

They then warn, “The need for environmental change is still at an early stage. Port and goods movement expansion projects continue to be promoted and then challenged through new research on health impacts, new policy initiatives, community mobilisations, legal actions, and the continuing push for less polluting and even zero emission technologies.”

Similar concerns about environmental policy direction were recently expressed by John Maggs, president of the Clean Shipping Coalition at the International Chamber of Shipping conference in London. He fears the industry is too wrapped up in dismissing policy responses out of hand, to leave a very narrow range of options that prohibit the shipping industry from sharing the solution to climate change, as reported in Seatrade Maritime News.

However, on a more optimistic note, the British Government recently announced over £7 million to be spent on trials to cut maritime emissions, as reported by CNBC.


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