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Pollutants at UK ports are declining at a minimal rate, mirroring wider national trends as businesses fail to address their environmental footprint.
Speaking at a UK Major Ports Group initiative on emissions, Arup’s head of environmental consulting, Michael Bull, called for increased use of cleaner fuels.
“The cost of adopting cleaner fuels is not low – we’d term it as medium – but the impact on national emissions could be quite high,” said Mr Bull.
“But, as with other changes, the timescale in seeing any impact is quite long as it will take a while for this to permeate through.”
While HGVs are commonly identified as the biggest transport polluter, Mr Bull said that because there had been a bigger push to get HGVs to Euro 6 standards, they had less of an environmental impact than other diesel-fuelled vehicles such as cars and industrial and agricultural equipment.
However, he admitted that there was still more be done to reduce trucking’s environmental impact, especially in terms of increased adoption of other transport methods, describing rail freight as an “easy win”.
“Transport is undoubtedly the big-ticket item in reducing port emissions, and getting traffic off the roads is vital to succeeding with this goal,” he said.
“Many UK ports have infrastructure in place to facilitate a push to rail – every train used removes 76 HGVs from the road, and if you have the ability to use rail this should be done.”
However, Xavier Woodward, government affairs and sustainability manager for DP World in Europe and Russia, questioned the feasibility of modal shift, given that the number of grants available to encourage this had been cut drastically.
“Studies suggest rail freight grants have proven to reduce HGV traffic – these grants should be reinstated and used more efficiently,” Mr Woodward told The Loadstar.
Mr Bull agreed: “It is true that there has been a slash in the number of grants available to subsidise the use of rail freight in this country. And since those have been cut, the quantity of freight shipped into ports by rail has dropped from around a 39% to a 31-32% share of total UK freight movements.
“A 7% drop equates to around 100,000 HGV movements annually, but for government the cost of moving freight to rail is relatively little and it is, again, an easy win,” he said.
UK Major Ports Group chief executive Tim Morris added that port operations made up a small proportion of total emissions within their areas. He backed Mr Bull’s assertion that government needs to play a bigger role in incentivising a shift from road to other forms of transport, including rail and shortsea services.
“Ports can and will do more to continue air quality improvement, but it’s clear to make a major difference in areas around ports requires more than the port acting,” said Mr Morris. “All stakeholders – industry and government at different levels – need to play their parts to deliver meaningful impact.
“We collectively need to find solutions that achieve the joint goals of better air quality and ensuring that the UK gets the best out of its global gateways.”