The Panama Canal Authority has started a strategic drive to become carbon neutral by 2030 by investing in electric vehicles, alternative fuels and reforestation
This key shipping waterway between the Caribbean and the Pacific has recognised the importance of making its own operations carbon neutral by the end of the decade.
To kick off its transition to greener operations, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) will purchase four electric vehicles as part of a pilot programme to collect data, which will be used by management to plan the future migration of the Canal’s entire fleet away from fossil-fuel dependence. Its strategic decarbonisation plan also includes introducing alternative fuels for tugboats and pilot launches. ACP also intends to substitute electric production processes in favour of photovoltaic plants and hydraulic energy.
“We are committed to sustainability,” said Panama Canal Authority administrator Ricaurte Vásquez Morales. “We are laying the foundations, creating the tools and identifying the changes needed to achieve efficiencies that will allow us as an organisation to reach carbon neutrality.”
It aims to ensure all facilities and infrastructure projects are environmentally responsible and sustainable. “This is a fundamental strategy for the waterway’s long-term operation and sustainability,” said Mr Morales. “This process will build on our long-standing efforts to minimise our environmental impact, including encouraging customers to use clean fuels and reduce their carbon footprint.”
ACP will develop an annual greenhouse gas inventory and an action plan with measurable targets to reduce emissions. These efforts will be factored into Panama’s National Determined Contribution, established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, following the Paris Agreement.
Mr Morales highlighted the achievements the Panama Canal Authority has already made to reduce global emissions. The key waterway reduced more than 13M tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2020 by offering a shorter route for ships in comparison to the most likely alternative routes.
The Panama Canal Authority first began tracking its own carbon footprint in 2013 to align its operations with the global objectives of reducing emissions. In 2017 it introduced an emissions calculator application enabling shipping lines to measure their greenhouse gas emissions per route. This also strengthens analysis of the emissions produced by its own daily operations.
ACP has taken steps to find ways to maximise its operational and environmental efficiencies, such as optimising ship transits and implementing water conservation measures.
Panama’s Maritime Single Window has improved the efficiency and carbon footprint of transhipment procedures by streamlining logistics paperwork for international customers passing through the country, saving up to 3,260 hours and over 300,000 paper forms each year.
ACP is incentivising shipping lines to minimise their environmental footprint through its Green Connection Environmental Recognition Programme. This recognises customers who demonstrate excellent environmental stewardship, including using low-carbon fuels and environmentally conscious routes. It is currently analysing how to take into account vessels’ technology and carbon footprints into its dynamic pricing strategy.
There are already transit separation schemes and vessel speed-reduction programmes. The Authority said these initiatives help shipping lines to reduce the risk of colliding with whales migrating near the waterway and lower their pollutant gas emissions.
Onshore, the Panama Canal has contributed to Panama’s ranking as one of only three carbon-negative countries in the world. This means Panama’s forests absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than the country emits.
The Panama Canal Authority’s Environmental Economic Incentives Programme incentivises local farmers to sustainably develop, reforest and protect land, resulting so far in reforesting of more than 12,000 hectares.
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