Co-authored by Charles Haine, Technical Director – Environmental and Maritime Sector Lead, based in London.

Maritime transport is the backbone of international trade. There are over 5,000 ports in the world and 70% of all goods are carried by sea and transit through ports before being transferred to another mode of transportation. Ports can join the global movement and have a notable impact towards CO2 emissions reduction by managing their collective carbon footprint. For over a decade, airports have gained local and international recognition for their leadership through the Airport Carbon Accreditation program. Ports can benefit from the airport sector experience to launch a similar scheme.

ACA's 2016-17 Carbon Reduction?
202,184 tonnes of CO2 202,184 tonnes of CO2

What is Airport Carbon Accreditation?

ACA is the global carbon management and reporting standard for airports. With over 200 airport members together handling over 30% of global passenger movements, it is the leading scheme for carbon reduction worldwide. ACA was developed by the industry itself, gaining important endorsement by key international industry bodies such as the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC). Since its 2009 launch, the sector and individual members have received plaudits for coordinated and consistent action on carbon emissions. ACA has proactively achieved a CO2 reduction of over 200,000 tonnes in 2016/17 and contributed to tangible improvement across the supply chain.

At COP21 in Paris in 2015, the owner of the programme – Airports Council International – signed a partnership with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to further promote climate action through ACA. The scheme is supporting the UNFCCC ''Climate Neutral Now'' campaign and is well on its way towards a target of having 100 carbon neutral airports in Europe by 2030.

The Ports Sector

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) recently announced its first hard target for the reduction of GHG emissions for ocean-going vessels – 50% globally, by 2050, against 2008 levels.  The ports sector plays a vital role in the movements and handling of cargo yet does not have a similar collective target. Instead, targeted reductions vary between terminal operators and the port estates that fall under the responsibility of the port authority. Governments, regulators, retailers and a host of other stakeholders, including ports themselves, would benefit from having a scheme in place. This will enable ports to keep pace with progress being made in connecting sectors (such as shipping and landside logistics) and to show credible governance in the fight to tackle climate change.

How Does a Carbon Management Scheme Work in Practice?

The specifics are to be determined in close collaboration with members of the ports industry but the scheme could be similar to ACA. Ports could be certified at one of four levels (mapping, reduction, optimisation, neutrality) and encouraged to demonstrate continuous improvement while collaborating with third parties and stakeholders. With its independent verification and administration (carried out by WSP), as well as having an expert advisory board, ACA provides a robust framework allowing airports to take new initiatives, measure metrics and report demonstrable progress. Such action is contributing to climate and risk mitigation. “Walking-the-talk” is well received by city authorities, local and international regulators, and financial entities involved in aviation.

What Can Ports Learn from ACA?

There is a feeling by some that, together, the ports sector is not doing enough about reducing GHG emissions. Many ports state that their emissions are much lower than those from shipping. Indeed, they contribute a small percentage in the transport of cargo from continent to continent. However, with every organisation expected to do their part, this is no reason for inaction. Initiatives by individual ports cannot take the sector forward collectively. Much more needs to be done in a consistent manner. Data collated following a verified accurate approach would ensure total reliability in reporting and benchmarking.

ACA was developed by the industry in response to an urgent need to demonstrate tangible action on climate change to regulators, customers, city authorities and local communities. It recognises the important role that airports play in the global logistics chain but also their ability to engage and influence the emissions of third parties (e.g. the airline landing and take-off cycle, as well as passenger transport to and from the airport).

There is a clear parallel with ports and terminals, where ocean-going vessels berth and set sail from a quay laden with cargo. Containers, for instance, are delivered to, or taken from the port by road, rail or river.  Passengers may also embark or leave a cruise vessel. 

Like ports today, airports previously lacked a clear system for managing and reporting GHG emissions.  A structured carbon management programme would enable ports to benchmark their performance against the industry average (worldwide, regional and ports at the same certification level) and learn from the member community. Based on ACA experience, benefits of scheme membership include: individual and sector recognition, identification of efficiencies, cost reductions, and a streamlined industry approach to carbon reduction and transparent disclosure.

How Can Ports Replicate this Success?

Carbon management for the ports sector is becoming a reality. WSP has commenced discussions with the ports sector around building a similar scheme. This process must be led by representatives of the ports industry who want to set the direction of the sector and tackle the challenges of a lower carbon future. Thanks to the lessons learned with the ACA, ports have the opportunity to implement an efficient programme and reap the rewards faster.


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