Reduce Pollution from Ports and Shipping

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China is home to eight of the world’s ten busiest ports, which power economic growth but also churn out air pollution linked to respiratory illness and cancer in both adults and children. While large cargo ships are required to use clean fuel as they approach U.S. and Canadian ports, they are allowed to switch back to bunker fuel—one of the dirtiest fuels in the world—on their way back to China. A single container ship in a Chinese port can produce as much diesel emissions as half a million trucks in a single day.

NRDC is helping China clean up its ports, spotlighting this largely overlooked and unregulated source of pollution in the country. We brief government agencies, academics, and port operators about the environmental and health impacts of port and shipping emissions as well as train officials in best practices for controlling pollution.

Drawing on our success in helping the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach slash diesel exhaust from ships, trucks, and trains, we're helping Chinese ports develop action plans to achieve the same goals. Much of this work has been focused in the Pearl River Delta, one of the world’s most densely populated regions and home to three of its busiest ports. Thanks in part to NRDC’s work with local partners, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen have also said they will control shipping emissions, and the national government is evaluating various mitigation options. We are now helping to detail these plans and make them more enforceable.

NRDC and local officials in the Pearl River Delta area are urging China to adopt a regional emission-control area—based on Chinese or international law—that could cut pollution from ships by up to 95 percent. This approach has proven to be one of the best ways to bring cleaner practices to all ports, preventing companies from shifting to less-regulated options. We are also calling for the use of low-sulfur fuel on domestic ships delivering goods throughout China, as well as modernizing the trucks, trains, and rivercraft that serve the country's ports.