Setting Sail on Sustainability: How Ports Can Drive Decarbonization Efforts

CO2 reduction

The shipping industry contributes around 2-3% of the world’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and this figure is expected to rise with the projected growth in global trade and shipping volumes. Depending on future economic and energy developments, IMO projects an increase in CO2 emission by 50% to 250% in the period to 2050 under a business-as-usual scenario, where no significant action is taken. 

In this context, ports, which are critical nodes in the global shipping network, play an essential role in decarbonization. Governments have implemented policies such as the European climate law, Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, and the US Clean Shipping Act of 2022, to encourage ports to take the lead in the green transition. In addition to external pressure, ports are recognizing the business case for decarbonization, including cost savings, improved efficiency, and enhanced reputation. By taking a proactive approach to decarbonization, ports can position themselves as leaders in sustainability and attract customers who prioritize environmental responsibility. 

With a clear ambition to cut emissions, the questions remain —  how can ports develop the decarbonization strategy that drives results, and how to track and report on the progress?

Where to start with port decarbonization efforts?


Ports are complex ecosystems involving various stakeholders, such as terminals, service providers, shipping lines, trucking companies, rail operators, etc., contributing to the port’s overall emissions profile. While ports usually don’t directly influence all these emission sources, it is essential to measure them to establish a comprehensive understanding of emissions within port boundaries and ensure that the emissions reduction efforts are holistic. 

Therefore assessing the current emissions profile of the port and establishing a baseline for emissions is a critical first step in developing a decarbonization strategy. For example, through the initial baseline emission assessment, ports can:

  • Define emission sources
  • Pinpoint top emission contributors 
  • Identify areas of the port where emissions are particularly concentrated


Once the baseline has been established, ports can use this information to set ambitious yet realistic targets. It is important to involve other stakeholders in the target-setting process to ensure the targets are achievable and aligned with broader sustainability goals. The targets should also be regularly reviewed and adjusted as necessary to reflect changes in technology, operations, or external factors such as regulatory requirements. 

For example, last year, the Port of Rotterdam used science-based targeting to calculate the emission reduction amount required to pull its weight to keep global warming below the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit. The ambition is not only to make its own operations entirely emission-free but also to reduce shipping emissions in the port management area (which reaches as far as 60km off the coast) by 20% in 2030. To get output for the target, the Port of Rotterdam used the PortXchange EmissionsInsider solution, which provides emission footprint from ships, trucks, and rail. Armed with this information, the Port of Rotterdam can now take targeted action to decarbonization.

How to establish an emissions baseline?


To establish ​​​an emissions baseline, ports must develop emission inventories that are necessary to ensure that the inventory is comprehensive (includes all scopes of emissions), accurate, and reliable.

Creating an emissions baseline involves the following steps: 

Define the inventory boundary: The first step in developing an emission inventory is to define the boundary of the inventory. This involves identifying the geographical and operational boundaries of the port and the sources of emissions included in the inventory.

Collect data: The next step is to collect data on the sources of emissions. This may include data on vessel movements, cargo handling equipment, on-road vehicles, off-road equipment, and other sources of emissions. Data may be collected through direct measurements, surveys, or from available sources such as AIS data, terminal operator reports, and other databases.

Categorize emissions sources: Once data is collected, the sources of emissions are categorized into different emission source categories, such as vessels, on-road vehicles, off-road equipment, and stationary sources.

Determine activity data: The next step is to determine activity data for each source category. This involves identifying the specific equipment used, the size of the engines, hours of operation, fuel type, and other relevant factors that impact emissions.

Select emission factors: Emission factors are then selected for each source category. Emission factors are specific to each type of equipment and consider factors such as engine size, fuel type, and operating conditions.

Calculate emissions: Using the activity data and emission factors, emissions are then calculated for each source category. This involves multiplying the activity data by the corresponding emission factors to estimate total emissions.

Compile inventory report: The final step is to compile the emission inventory report. This includes a summary of the emissions by source category, an assessment of the trends and changes in emissions over time, and recommendations for reducing emissions.

Developing a port emission inventory is a complex process that requires careful planning, data collection, and analysis and is not without limitations. One of the key limitations is that emission inventories are typically developed for a specific period, such as a year or 5 years, and may not reflect changes in emissions over time. Emissions can vary significantly depending on factors such as changes in traffic patterns, changes in operational practices, or implemented decarbonization measures. Without getting frequent updates on the emission level, ports cannot assess the effectiveness of their sustainability efforts on time and apply corrective measures if needed.

How to streamline emission tracking and reporting with PortXchange EmissionInsider?


To aid ports in their efforts to decarbonize and streamline emissions tracking and reporting, PortXchange has introduced EmissionInsider. This digital solution eliminates manual work and provides historical and current emissions data from ships, trucks, and rail. While these emission sources usually account for a significant percentage of in-port emissions, they are challenging to track and quantify, and that’s where EmissionInsider comes in handy.

EmissionInsider adopts an “activity-based” emissions inventory approach that calculates emissions using a combination of real-world activity data and a mathematical model. For example, for vessel emissions, EmissionInsider takes into account AIS information, speed and distance traveled, and vessel characteristics. This data is then multiplied by emissions factors to calculate emissions levels accurately. 

PortXchange EmissionInsider helps ports to:

  • Map out emissions from all modes of transport
  • Identify top emission contributors per modality and facility
  • Utilize heatmap to understand the intensity and distribution of emissions within its area of influence


The EmissionInsider automatically compiles emission reports in almost real-time, allowing ports to investigate the effects of specific measures on emission levels. This not only saves time and costs but also enables better decision-making to identify the most effective strategies for reducing emissions. With EmissionInsider, ports can track their progress toward decarbonization and make informed decisions about the measures that have the highest impact on emission reduction.

Want to learn more about EmissionInsider capabilities? Book your demo here.

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About the author

Diana Trubnikova
Growth Marketer
Diana is a B2B marketing specialist passionate about innovative digital solutions that drive real change in the world. She helps companies discover PortXchange and assess if it’s a good fit for their needs.

Diana Trubnikova

Growth Marketer

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