Los Angeles and Long Beach ports have long been the primary source of pollution on the US West Coast, which also happens to be the smoggiest region in the country. Since June of this year, the accumulation of diesel-powered container ships and a large number of cargo-moving trucks in the ports has exacerbated the situation. Residents living near these ports face the highest risk of cancer from the air pollution in that region, which is primarily caused by smoke-belching ships anchored at these ports. California has set a 2023 deadline for reducing smog and improving air quality, but the situation on the ground has deteriorated in recent years. Especially, with the ongoing congestion at the LA port.
While efficient ports are critical for the economic development of their surrounding areas, the associated ship traffic, cargo handling in the ports, and hinterland distribution can all hurt the environment as well as the economy.
Port congestion and Pollution:
When a vessel arrives at a port and is unable to berth, it must wait at the anchorage until a berth becomes available. This is a problem that only gets worse over time and Southern California ports have been facing congestion issues like never before. A huge crowd of container ships has been constrained to queue outside Los Angeles and Long Beach, causing the latest supply chain disruption in the United States.
The ships are stranded outside two of the busiest ports of the country, which together handle 40% of all containerized cargo entering the US.
The number of ships awaiting entry into the largest US gateway for trade with Asia reached a record high, increasing delays for businesses attempting to replenish inventories during one of the busiest times of the year for seaborne freight.
On September 12, Port of Los Angeles Director Gene Seroka warned that a “significant volume” of goods was “coming our way throughout this year and into 2022.”
Consequently, on September 18, a record 73 ships were trapped outside the port – nearly double the number as that of the previous month.
The current congestion — with both ports setting records regularly — exemplifies cargo surge since the pandemic. The backlog has increased pollution and poses a threat of supply shortages ahead of the holiday shopping season.
If the global shipping industry were a country, it would be the world’s sixth-highest CO2 emitter, ahead of Germany. As an international industry, shipping was not covered by the 2015 Paris climate change agreement that focused on individual nations’ responsibility for critical emissions. But as unprecedented heatwaves, forest fires and flooding raise global awareness of climate change, the shipping industry is starting to make up for lost time.
How significant is their response? And was Maersk’s recent announcement of investing over US$1.4bn in eight post-Panamax containerships that can run on methanol or bunker fuel just a drop in the proverbial ocean? Let’s take a closer look at how shipping is responding to the climate crisis.
FleetMon supports ETH researchers to find the answer.
Fighting climate change demands action in all sectors. International shipping faces the challenge of long lifetimes of vessels compared to other modes of transportation. Decisions on energy carriers and propulsion technologies that are made now have a long-lasting impact on the emissions of the sector.
A research group at the Institute of Energy Technology at ETH Zürich led by Prof. Dr. Konstantinos Boulouchos developed a fleet turnover model for the shipping sector to estimate its future CO2 emissions up to 2050. Thereby, the CO2 emissions of existing ships and those of new ships entering the fleet yield yearly emission figures. However, up until recently, a missing puzzle piece for such models has been how long existing ships will actually still be in service. Missing or prohibitively expensive data has prevented analyses on this topic.
Researchers at ETH Zurich provide new insights on the emission reduction potential of shore-side electricity using AIS data from FleetMon.
The urgency for climate action expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) demands a rapid market uptake of CO2 reduction measures in all sectors. For international shipping, the European Commission has frequently emphasized the important role of providing shore-side electricity to ships at berth, being a rather simple way of reducing CO2 emissions of ships, but also due to considerable co-benefits: Local air pollution in sea ports is primarily caused by emissions of ships at berth and poses a severe threat for premature mortality on the local residents.