Dockers from ITF affiliates attending the ITF Africa maritime conference in Madagascar (16-18 October) came together to discuss climate change and other environmental issues in ports. This was the first in a series of discussion groups on port sustainability that will be held in ITF regions over the coming months. The experience and ideas of affiliates will form the basis of future policies and strategies for action.

Following a short presentation designed to stimulate discussion, dockers’ union delegates shared their experiences about the impact of ports on the environment and the environmental issues impacting on port workers.

Delegates identified a number of common environmental issues in African ports, especially poor air quality, emissions from ships and dust from cargo. In many cases, workers are not supplied with protective safety equipment or they are forced to buy their own.  Delegates also highlighted the lack of knowledge about climate change amongst port workers and their unions in Africa and said that there was an urgent need to raise awareness about this and other environmental issues.

As one of the outcomes of the conference, delegates called for the ITF “to take appropriate steps to improve the awareness of maritime unions on climate change and sustainable environment issues” and to assist affiliates “develop strategies and design campaigns to address climate change and sustainable environment issues.”


The impact of ports on the environment

The maritime industry (shipping and ports) is considered to be a relatively low emitter of greenhouse gases compared to other forms of transport but this is predicted to increase dramatically over the next forty years as the volume of international freight transported by ships increases.

Ships generally use low quality fuel that emits carbon dioxide (CO2) which contributes to global warming; as well as other harmful substances such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), and particulate matter that are dangerous to human health.

Ports and related activities contribute to climate change and have other negative impacts on the environment. These can be divided into three basic categories:

Direct problems caused by port activity, including terminals (noise, emissions of greenhouse gases and other harmful substances, energy use, waste disposal, dredging, water use and run-off); Indirect problems caused by ships calling at ports (exhaust emissions, dust from loading and unloading, noise, ballast water and garbage disposal); and by transporting goods to and from ports (emissions, noise and traffic congestion); and, Indirect problems caused by generating power used by ports and ships (energy use, greenhouse gas and other emissions).

Increases in seaborne trade mean an increase in shipping, an increase in port traffic and cargo handling, and an increase in land traffic, and thus an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems in the port area.

This will increase the negative impact of ports on the environment.

Action is needed urgently!