The Belgian Port of Antwerp wants to work towards becoming a sustainable port reconciling economic, social and ecological interests. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been anchored in the port’s mission and business plan with a roadmap for 2030.
With more than 80% of global trade by volume carried by maritime transport, ports play a key role in sustainable development and prosperity. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the movement of goods worldwide is being tightened to prevent the spread of the virus. For the Port of Antwerp, which supplies not only Belgium but the whole of Europe, it is important to keep ships moving and ports open.
The COVID-19 crisis will be a catalyst for change for the port, according to Port of Antwerp CEO Jacques Vandermeiren in an interview with UNRIC. “It comes on top of a number of other crises, such as the climate crisis and trade tensions,” he explained. “This will help us move faster towards an energy and climate transition and certainly towards a digital transition. One crisis is a catalyst for another.”
“SDGs are the ideal guideline; they represent shared international interests in a common language,” says Lise Destombes the port’s Corporate Social Responsibility Officer.
Contributing to all SDGs
“The SDGs also form an assessment framework that encourages us to take several things into account in our decision-making: climate, well-being, decent work, safety, air quality, mobility, responsible consumption, etc.,” she continued. “We want to contribute to all SDGs, but SDG 17 on partnerships is the lever to realise our ambitions.”
The SDGs are also integrated into procurement and concession policies and the port’s daily operations. Projects have started to capture and store carbon dioxide, to develop green hydrogen and renewable energy, including the world’s first hydrogen tugboat and shore-side power for ships so they can turn off their polluting engines and function on electricity while at shore. A brand-new site covering almost 100 hectares will open for new circular industries by 2023.
The Waterbus, which offers a car-free alternative to commuting for the port’s 60,000 employees, is another initiative. It has carried more than a million passengers in just a few years and is now run by the Flemish Government. For Vandermeiren, this is “proof that the port can be a lever for a sustainable future for others, a test zone for new ideas or technologies.”
International network of sustainable ports
Internationally, the Port of Antwerp works with ports that play a pioneering role in sustainable development. It was selected as one of Belgium’s 2020 SDG Voices to inspire enthusiasm for the SDGs among the general public and plays an important role in the port community.
The port belongs to the Getting to Zero Coalition, an alliance of more than 110 organisations from the maritime, energy, infrastructure and financial sectors, which aim to get deep sea zero emission vessels powered by zero emission fuels into operation by 2030. European ports Rotterdam, Hamburg and Aarhus are also members.
Together with 10 other ports, such as Barcelona, Gothenburg, Hamburg and Le Havre, the Port of Antwerp is participating in the World Ports Climate Action Program (WPCAP), an initiative aimed at reducing CO2 emissions from shipping and ports and improving air quality.
Through the Port of Antwerp’s training centres, colleagues around the world are also trained in the importance of sustainability.
Climate-neutral port by 2050
These efforts are urgently needed. International shipping is responsible for approximately 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to Vandermeiren, the port area of Antwerp accounts for 10 to 15 percent of Belgium’s CO2 emissions.
“Shying away from our responsibility would be too easy. We want to provide solutions from within the port community, the SDGs are more than ever an important policy framework for this”.
“Our ultimate goal is to be a climate-neutral port in a climate-neutral country by 2050. Hopefully we can inspire others by showing them that it is possible,” Vandermeiren concluded.
This article was originally published as part of the Benelux ‘SDG Actors’ series of the UN Regional Information Centre (UNRIC). The inclusion of an organisation in this series in no way reflects the views of, nor does it mean approval by, UNRIC or the United Nations.