Air Quality and Shore-to-Ship Charging

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 29th March 2018.

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Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury) 5:19 pm, 29th March 2018

I congratulate Dr Whitehead on securing this important debate on shipping emissions and, in particular, on shore-to-ship charging. I agree that our maritime ports should continue to thrive, and we are all here to ensure that that happens. I had the privilege of visiting Southampton during the first few weeks in my new role as maritime Minister, and since then I have met a number of shipping stakeholders that operate out of the port. I know the port’s importance to the city and the local economy, as it provides up to 15,000 jobs in the Solent region and thousands more across the UK. I believe that it is also the world’s busiest port.

I also know the importance of air quality to the city, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue today. We know the harmful effects that poor air quality can have on human health, the economy and the environment. It shortens lives and reduces quality of life, especially for the most vulnerable. Reducing air pollution to protect the environment and public health is unquestionably a priority for the Government. The UK has signed up to ambitious, legally binding targets to reduce emissions of the five most damaging air pollutants by 2020 and 2030, aiming to cut early deaths from poor air quality by half.

The debate has focused on shipping emissions. To date, the UK’s main priority in tackling ship emissions has been at the international level. We have played, and continue to play, a leading role in negotiating international limits for pollutant emissions from shipping. The UK has consistently pressed for the most stringent controls in those high-risk areas. UK ports such as the port of Southampton have been the beneficiaries of that action. Being within the North sea emissions control area means that the city and residents of Southampton benefit from some of the most stringent international controls on shipping emissions in its surrounding waters. Since January 2015, all vessels operating in that area must use either 0.1% sulphur fuel or a compliant alternative, and from 2021, all new ships operating in this area will need to meet the most stringent NOx emissions standards, which we expect to reduce NOx emissions from ships by around 75%.

Those international controls are having a major positive impact on air quality, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to go as far as we can on this. The controls have been successful in achieving major emissions reductions, and in stimulating the development and uptake of alternative fuels, innovative green technologies and new ship designs. That said, we are not complacent and we know that much more needs to be done and can be done. At the international level, the UK is strongly pushing for an ambitious and credible strategy to reduce greenhouse gases from shipping, and I invite the hon. Gentleman to support the UK’s efforts to get a strong and forward-thinking agreement at the International Maritime Organisation as we enter the final weeks of negotiations after Easter. Furthermore, we will continue to press for international action that will enable the uptake of low and zero-emission technologies. However, we also want to ensure that we are doing all we can to reduce emissions in UK waters.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is developing a clean air strategy that will look at actions to reduce pollutant emissions across the board from manufacturing to farming, and from generating energy to transport. This will be published for consultation shortly, so all stakeholders will have the chance to contribute on this important issue. My Department has been working closely with DEFRA and the maritime sector to develop proposals within the strategy to further reduce shipping emissions.

I hear the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about Southampton and recognise that the city faces a serious challenge to improve its poor air quality. In the 2015 air quality plan, Southampton was named as one of the five initial cities that were expected to produce local plans to achieve compliance with nitrogen dioxide limits by 15 September 2018. In July 2017, the Government announced £255 million for local councils to accelerate their air quality plans as part of a £3.5 billion commitment on air quality and cleaner transport. The Government are supporting Southampton City Council to conduct its feasibility study and to implement measures to deliver compliance in the shortest possible time. I also know that Southampton port is actively developing ways of reducing emissions across the port, and that it is considering shoreside power as an option to deliver air quality improvements.

We must recognise, however, that reducing shipping emissions is a complex issue, and experts concur that there is no silver bullet. Shoreside electricity is one of a number of solutions. Some of them are very well established, such as using liquefied natural gas, scrubbers and NOx catalysts. Other are still being trialled and applied on a small scale, such as hydrogen, electric batteries and hybrid solutions. We are, for example, seeing an ever-increasing number of ships that are capable of using LNG. The choice of which technology to deploy and invest in will primarily lie with shipowners and ship operators, but ports also have a role to play. Ships often rely on ports to provide access to alternative fuels, but ports will equally rely on ships installing technologies to ensure that the provision of such fuels is commercially viable.

I am aware that ports across the world are beginning to make provision for cleaner, alternative fuels. Some have chosen to introduce shoreside power, and there are many examples of good practice across the UK. A number of ports offer LNG bunkering, such as Teesport, Immingham and Southampton, and others are exploring the use of hydrogen, such as Orkney. The Port of London Authority has published an air quality strategy with the objective of addressing air quality on the tidal Thames and has introduced measures such as a discount on fees for greener ships calling at the port.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned infrastructure. Our national policy statement for ports requires new port developments, especially nationally significant infrastructure projects, to consider the provision of alternative fuels as part of the planning process. In particular, they are required to make reasonable advance provision for shoreside electricity, or to explain why that would not be economically and environmentally worth while.

We must recognise, however, that the business model for UK ports is different from that in many other countries. UK ports are private entities and decisions about operations or infrastructure are a commercial matter for each port to decide. We know that ports such as Southampton will decide the best solution for them based on the needs of their customers and their stakeholders.

I mentioned before that my Department was developing a maritime air quality strategy to feed into the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ clean air strategy. My officials are engaging with stakeholders to understand the best approach to reduce emissions, and we are working with industry, academia, trade bodies, ports and other Departments to ensure that any strategy is credible and time-proof. As part of that, we are clear that we need a strong evidence base about the impact of shipping on the environment to inform decisions about the best solutions to reduce pollutant emissions from ships, and we need to ensure that any solutions to reduce pollutant emissions are not dealt with in isolation, but support the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We consider that a holistic strategy is the best way to enable the long-term goal of zero-emission shipping in the UK.

Such an ambition provides real opportunities for UK industry in the development of green technologies and fuels. The UK is home to a wealth of expertise in maritime technology, and we want to exploit the technical and innovative excellence of our sector to lead such a change. The Government want to continue to encourage innovative ideas to help to create a more sustainable maritime sector. Last December, the transport research innovation grant—T-TRIG—competition offered funding for targeted calls for projects addressing maritime air quality issues. We received 14 applications and have selected five projects, two of which I believe are in Southampton and Leeds—Alex Sobel made an intervention earlier. These will receive grants of around £50,000 each to help to take their early-stage innovations to the next stage of development.

My officials are actively working with the maritime sector to develop an industrial strategy sector deal that has innovation at its core, and we are supporting the development of an industrial strategy challenge fund bid that is based around smarter and cleaner ships. Southampton is a great city to live and work in, with a fine maritime tradition. By virtue of being inside the emission control area, the people of Southampton already benefit from the strictest international controls on ship emissions currently available in Europe. SOx emissions from ships have reduced dramatically since the introduction of the emissions control area and, as I indicated, further benefits that will come from the introduction of the lower NOx limit, which comes into force in 2021.

More change needs to happen and collaboration is paramount. It is about commitment across the sector: shipping companies, ports, shipbuilders—everybody has a role to play in improving air quality. I can assure the hon. Member for Southampton, Test that the Government are committed to addressing the issue of air quality in the UK. My Department is committed to reducing emissions from transport and I am committed to ensuring that the maritime sector plays its part in that.

As this is the final debate before Easter, may I wish everyone who works in the House—this mother of all Parliaments—a very happy Easter? And if I may be indulged, Mr Speaker, may I especially wish my daughter, Farah, a very happy Easter indeed?

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.