Mexico Struggles to Cut Emissions from its Ports

The port of Manzanillo, in the western state of Colima, lying on the Pacific coast, receives the largest amount of maritime cargo in Mexico and emits the highest volume of polluting gases, despite environmental measures introduced in recent years. Credit: IDB
The port of Manzanillo, in the western state of Colima, lying on the Pacific coast, receives the largest amount of maritime cargo in Mexico and emits the highest volume of polluting gases, despite environmental measures introduced in recent years. Credit: IDB
  • by Emilio Godoy (la paz, mexico)
  • Inter Press Service

The port, on the Pacific coast, has docks for ferries and merchant ships, and offers services such as drinking water, food, fuel, electricity and garbage collection, to serve ships arriving from other parts of Mexico, the United States and Asia.

This facility, owned by the Administración Portuaria Integral (API) of Baja California Sur, a peninsular state in the northwestern corner of the country, is expanding to accommodate more ships, passengers and cargo, as are other Mexican ports along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

Also, La Paz, the state capital, is under pressure to control its port activity, so the regional API is transferring to Pichilingue what it can no longer do in La Paz, such as cruise ship arrivals. Its location also facilitates its integration into a northwest circuit in the transport between Mexico and neighbouring United States.

The environmental situation of the ports requires measures, while Mexico is barely on the way to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, generated by human activities and causing global warming.

Experts consulted by IPS acknowledged progress in containing these emissions, but warned of the need to design comprehensive policies that include ports and maritime transport.

"Small efforts are being made in the right direction. There are initial actions that can help, such as energy efficiency measures and changing light bulbs. But a port cannot be separated from shipping," Kristina Abhold, an expert with the non-governmental Global Maritime Forum, told IPS at a port forum in La Paz.

The 36 ports of the 17 administrations of the National Port System, administered by the Ministry of the Navy (Semar), emitted 1.33 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent in 2022, almost double the level of 2021.

This is detailed in Semar's Port Decarbonisation Strategy, which IPS obtained through a public information request and which only has the consolidated data up to that year.

More ships, more CO2

Maritime trade has grown in Mexico since then, and probably so have GHG emissions.

Emissions from its customers' activities, known as Scope 3 (A3), doubled in 2022 compared to the previous year.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol standards, the most widely used in the world, classify emissions coming from energy an industry consumes (A1) and from energy it purchases from others (A2).

A1 emissions rose 38 %, while A2 emissions rose 12 %.

As for cargo, the port of Manzanillo, located in the western state of Colima, the largest in the country and a leader in container movement, received the most between January and April this year and released 30 % more emissions into the atmosphere in 2022.

The measurements involve the activity of cargo ships, vessels parked at the port, cargo handling equipment, locomotives and cargo trucks, as well as the operation of terminals, operators, service providers, shipping lines, shipping and customs agents, and road and rail transport companies.

Port sustainability includes consideration of environmental, economic and social aspects, such as pollution, dredging of nearby areas, return on investment and job creation.

Shipping represents the second mode of transport for foreign trade in Mexico. The National Port System, with 103 ports, handled 90.86 million tonnes of cargo in the first four months of this year, almost 3 % less than in the same period of 2023.

In the opinion of Tania Miranda, Director of Environment and Climate Change Programme of the non-governmental Institute of the Americas (IOA), the steps taken are still incipient.

"We are in our infancy. It's a process that has been going on for a short time in one of the industries that is most behind in the process, and it's a difficult sector to do it. Investing in this type of project has been difficult," she told IPS from the U.S. city of San Diego, which borders Mexico's northern border.

Even so, "in the last two years efforts have been made, there was progress in inventories, there were investments in digitalisation of operations, which can lead to a reduction in emissions,” she emphasized.


The largest Mexican ports have taken environmental measures, but they are insufficient to address the problem.

 Manzanillo and Ensenada, the fifth largest port but the second busiest, located in Baja California and a logistics hub between Asia and the United States, have master port development programmes where environmental impact is not mentioned.

Moreover, no Mexican - or Latin American - port appears on the project map of the World Ports Sustainability Programme that covers the largest such facilities on the planet. The country also lacks a clean marine fuel refining project.

For Carlos Martner, coordinator of Integrated Transport and Logistics of the governmental Mexican Institute of Transport, some ports, especially the larger ones, have made more progress.

"The issue is coming on strong and there will be more and more demands to improve processes. But a comprehensive policy is needed that encompasses the ports," he told IPS in La Paz.

The national strategy sees a 25 % reduction of emissions by 2030 and of 45 % by 2050, but only proposes general measures, such as planning resilient infrastructure, harmonising management and planning instruments like concession titles, master development programmes and operating rules, as well as identifying, describing and programming the application of low-emission energy policies.

Semar has also identified and is to implement measures such as the development of green shipping corridors, energy efficiency, resilient infrastructure planning, and optimisation of traceability and waste utilisation.

However, Mexico did not sign up to the Clydebank Declaration for Green Shipping Corridors in November 2021 during the Glasgow climate summit, which aims to create at least six low-emission corridors by 2025 and which only 24 countries have signed.

Mexico must also meet the goals of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to lower CO2 emissions for all international shipping by at least 40 % by 2030, compared to 2008 levels.

The IMO also sets the adoption of zero or near-zero emission energy sources, fuels and/or technologies at 5 %, with a target of 10 %, of the energy used by international shipping by 2030.

Abhold, from the Global Maritime Forum,  proposed electric shipping to reduce emissions. "This decarbonises both sides of the chain and a port fee including externalities can be charged, as other ports do. But a comprehensive policy with clear goals is needed. There is a lack of signals from the government and incentives," she stressed.

Miranda, from the IOA, said that substantial investment and coordination between government agencies in the sector at all port levels is necessary.

"The document will not achieve anything by itself. There are legal, fiscal and operational issues. I would love to see transversality with the treasury, the environmental sector. Without including ships, Mexico's progress will be very poor. There is a dissociation between port management and maritime transport," she stressed.

The expert Martner foresaw international pressure for the creation of green shipping corridors.

"They can be developed in the ports bordering the United States. For example, cruise ships can transit that lane. There is great pressure there to improve water quality, emissions, waste treatment. It's a long road, but action has already been taken," he said.

© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service