Proven Pathways to Clean up China's Ports, a Major Source of China's Air Pollution Problem

For twelve years, NRDC has been working with the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to clean up the pollution that comes from ships, trucks and trains that serve those ports.  As a result, diesel particulate pollution in the ports’ neighborhood has dropped nearly 80%.

Under the leadership of my NRDC colleague Barbara Finamore, NRDC is taking the lessons we learned locally to the ports of China; in particular, the ports in the Pearl River Delta such as the heavily-populated cities of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. This is important work because 7 of the 10 busiest ports in the world are in China and about 30 percent of the world’s containers pass through China’s ports, and yet, air quality at the Chinese ports is largely unregulated. And poor regulation at Chinese ports is allowing one container ship to pollute as much as 500,000 trucks, in a single day.

Ships passing through  most Chinese ports are allowed to use the dirtiest diesel fuel available, with up to 35 times higher sulfur levels than in the fuel permitted at the Los Angeles ports (also among the busiest ports in the world).  These intense sulfur levels in diesel fuel result in a much more dangerous volume of diesel particulate matter emitted from combustion which ultimately takes a huge toll on public health, causing people respiratory complications, and even worse, premature death.  A recent study estimates 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010 were caused by ambient air pollution. Also, regulation of diesel truck fuel used at Chinese ports is lax at best.

Today, NRDC releases a new report: The Prevention and Control of Shipping and Port Air Emissions In China, detailing this pollution problem and presenting not just policies, but specific measures that can be implemented now in China to tackle port pollution. 

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I have been to China several times in the last few years and I think that the national government is serious about cleaning up the enormous air quality problems afflicting China. Hong Kong has already taken steps in the right direction, but much of the air pollution that affects the region comes from shipping routes and ports upriver which further necessitate a regional solution.

We believe China can have both strong economic growth and clean air, at its ports and elsewhere.  Take a look at our new report for pathways toward that achievable result. China will breathe much easier once port pollution is solved.

About the Authors

David Pettit

Senior Attorney, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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