Northwest seaports announce plan to cut all emissions by 2050

SEATTLE — The Northwest Ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, British Columbia, say they’re eliminating emissions by 2050 -- a goal noted as the ceiling, not the floor, meaning there’s hopes to move as quickly as technology and laws allow.

It’s a goal that may be lofty, or too slow, depending on who you’re speaking to.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the world must cut emissions to net-zero by 2050 to avoid the world warming by 1.5 degrees -- such a scenario would lead to storms, flood, drought and forest fires with increasing severity due to climate change.

To cut out emissions northwest seaports will have to continue changes they’ve implemented, and go further. The renewed strategy goes far beyond goals set in 2007 and 2013. Back then the goal was to cut greenhouse gas emissions and diesel particulate matter by specific percentages -- now the goal is to cut them out completely.

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We have seen a number of moves to cut emissions in recent years.

One key: shore power -- essentially seaports have been building up infrastructure to allow cruise and cargo vessels to plug in and utilize regular electricity, which in turn allows them to turn off large diesel engines.

There’s also been a push to decrease the amount of older -- heavier polluting -- diesel engine trucks and equipment that run endlessly at ports. The Northwest Seaport Alliance has incentivized truckers to trade in older vehicles for newer ones that pollute up to 90% less.

There’s also work being done to incentivize zero-emission vehicles.

“We are working to create a statewide, or regional, clean truck collaborative to accelerate the commercialization of zero-emission trucks and the development of the necessary fueling and charging infrastructure,” said Jason Jordan, the NWSA’s director of environmental programs.

At the end of the day, the goal to cut emissions to zero is aspirational in some ways. Each port is working on individual plans that will be published this year, but it will rely heavily on pushing industry, lawmakers and other ports to push for new technologies if they can make it happen. In other words, there’s no point-by-point plan to get to zero emissions without relying on the development of things we haven’t seen yet.

To get to zero emission, those unveiling today’s news stress that they’ll need to build up infrastructure along the waterfront in terms of availability of clean electricity and charging stations.

They’ll also need to convince industry to rapidly update their practices: from zero-emission equipment, trucks and the vessels themselves.

Finally, they’ll need to push for changes in state, federal and international law. Each speaker at Thursday’s unveiling mentioned Washington’s low-carbon fuel standard bill -- something they threw their support behind, though it’s unclear whether it will pass the legislature. A vote may come this week, but it shows part of the strategy of the announcement -- by banding together the seaports can add weight behind their plans.

“We’re hoping this creates the urgency,” said Sandy Kilroy, Port of Seattle. “A lot of this will be global tech for zero emissions and zero emission trucks. We’re hoping actions like this will push that technology developments.”

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