Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Port Metro Vancouver and sustainability: beyond its operations

Port Metro Vancouver has the stated goals of becoming the most sustainable port in North America. Since 2010, the Port has embedded sustainability into key documents such as its Port 2050 long-range plan and its updated land-use plan. In addition the Port has preserve marine, wetlands and shore habitat in Metro Vancouver, and is part of the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, implementing measures such as ship-to-shore power to reduce air pollution and GHG emissions.

The Port is now working on something it calls the Sustainable Gateway Initiative. The first step of this initiative is to define what exactly a sustainable gateway is. According to Port Metro Vancouver this means:

Economic prosperity through trade:

-Competitive Business
-Effective Workforce
-Strategic Investment and Asset Management

Health environment:

-Health Ecosystems
-Climate Action
-Responsible Practices

Thriving communities:

-Good Neighbour
-Community Connection
-First Nations Relationships
-Safety and Security

You can read more about this in a document the Port has published online.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is that while the Port itself may be trying to meet its sustainability objectives, does it matter what cargo actually passes through the Port?

Coal is by far the largest commodity that passes through Port Metro Vancouver. In 2013, coal represented 28% of the total tonnage of commodities. Petroleum products represented 6% of the total tonnage of commodities that passed through the Port in 2013.

While the Port can claim that it is doing its part for climate change, it is actually facilitating climate change on a much larger scale. There is much controversy when it comes to oil pipelines and their proposed expansion in Metro Vancouver. Coal exports also have a direct impact on the livability of Metro Vancouver. Increased coal trains decreases human health. Coal is also one of the most GHG-emission intensive fossil fuels. The air pollution caused by the burning of North American coal in China is making its way back across the ocean and is polluting drinking water in San Juan County.

Of course there is also the truckers strike. This is a matter of social equality which is a part of the sustainability puzzle.

Port Metro Vancouver is a creation of the federal government with the purpose to facilitate trade, but does the Port have to facilitate all trade no matter the cost? Does ship-to-shore power matter when coal that passes through the Port will facilitate irreversible climate change, and shorten the lives of people in Metro Vancouver? These are questions that only the federal government can answer.

While I’m happy that Port Metro Vancouver is continuing to make its operations more sustainable, the federal government also has a role to ensure that Port Metro Vancouver doesn’t remain the leading exporter of dirty commodities in Canada.

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