Sustainable Shipping in Shanghai

The Waigaoqiao container pier in Shanghai
Credit: Xinhua/Alamy Stock Photo

NRDC is working with the Chinese port, the largest in the world, to cut pollution and make its operations more efficient. 

On a sunny day this week in Shanghai, I went to the largest port in the world to see for myself what China is doing to cut pollution from the giant container ships that link the world’s fastest-growing economy to markets worldwide. In partnership with NRDC, China is moving forward to make its shipping cleaner, more efficient, and more sustainable.

From blue jeans and bicycles to smartphones and laptops, China will export some $2.3 trillion worth of products this year to the United States and other countries worldwide. Most of that will leave China from Shanghai and nearly a dozen other key Chinese ports that together handle roughly a third of the cargo shipped worldwide.

At Shanghai’s Waigaoqiao port, I watched towering cranes load steel cargo containers the size of railroad cars onto massive ships that can carry as much as 200 million pounds of cargo each. These ships burn diesel fuel by the tankerload. One ship can cough up as much diesel pollution as half a million trucks. That’s a lot of toxic chemicals, fine particles, and carbon pollution.

Three years ago, NRDC began working with Chinese officials to address this pollution, which is causing health problems for China’s people and contributing to global climate change. Now, China is taking action to make sure these oceangoing behemoths burn cleaner fuel and use engines that pump out lower emissions. They are also working to improve the overall efficiency of the vessels, trucks, and equipment that service the ships and to streamline loading and related operations.

The key is a national regulation China adopted last year that creates Domestic Emissions Control Areas in Shanghai and the nation’s 10 other largest ports. Under the new rule, to be phased in fully by January 2019, ships using these ports will burn diesel fuel that contains less than 0.5 percent sulfur — about 80 percent less than the average content of dirtier fuels used now.

In Shanghai, the Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) began enforcing the standards last spring. Inspectors board ships, verify fuel records, and take fuel samples for testing. Shanghai Municipal Transport Commission officials have taken other steps as well, like using trucks powered by natural gas, instead of dirty diesel fuel, to help load supplies; installing electric cranes to replace diesel-powered units; and installing equipment that will provide power to ships in their slips so captains can shut down their engines while vessels are in port.

To help support the transition to more sustainable port operations, NRDC organized a workshop last spring with the Shanghai Municipal Transport Commission and the Shanghai MSA to help familiarize local officials with international best practices and new technologies that assist in fuel monitoring and inspections.

“We treasure very much the continuous, consistent, great support from NRDC,” said one of our hosts, Jian Du, director of the foreign communications division of the Shanghai Municipal Transport Commission.

It’s a sound partnership, one of many I’m proud to say we’ve built in the 20 years NRDC has been active in China. It’s enabled our staff to develop valuable relationships with Chinese officials from the Shanghai MSA and its branches, such as Jie Che, deputy director of the Maritime Safety Administration of Pudong, the ultramodern industrial zone just across the great Yangtze River from Shanghai; Xiaodong Chen, deputy director of dangerous-goods management and pollution prevention with the Pudong MSA; and Jingzhou Chang, an inspector with the dangerous-goods management and pollution prevention office.

Often called the Paris of the East, Shanghai has long been an international center of commerce and culture. It’s the seat of China’s stock exchange. And its port and the giant ships it serves are an essential part of an economy that has built one of the largest trading empires the world has ever known.

In Shanghai and other Chinese ports, devoted officials are working to make sure China’s shipping industry can thrive in a cleaner, more sustainable way. NRDC is proud to help support that effort.

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