The university mapped the environmental actions of 72 UK port locations and compared them with those carried out by leading ports overseas.
The research said that with more than 50% of global container traffic being controlled by 20 major ports companies, ports could take a leading role in bringing about major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.
Although shipping is a relatively clean form of freight, in 2007, international shipping accounted for 2.7% of global carbon emissions, according to a report by the International Maritime Organisation.
Dr Patrick Rigot-Muller, from the UoH Business School, said: “There is scope to reduce carbon emissions in the maritime industry by between 25% and 75%, using a range of technical and operational measures,” he said.
Existing measures include the use of “green passports” that offered reduced port fees for vessels meeting specified environmental requirements for emissions. As reported by IFW, this is currently used at four Dutch ports.
Cold-Ironing is another measure currently in use. The report said: “This is far more efficient than generating power on board ships for heat, lighting and other operations
“If energy from the grid is from sustainable sources, the environmental benefit is even greater.”
Truck control and vehicle booking systems are in use at the US port of Los Angeles. This reduces carbon emissions by providing time slots for haulage vehicles to be at the quayside, limiting the amount of time spent in port with engines running. It has reportedly reduced port truck emissions by 70%.
David Gibbs, a Professor at the UoH said: “There is a good track record of shipping companies working in partnership with port operators to improve environmental standards, given the right incentives.”
However, he said, for agreements to be effective, they would have to be adopted at a Europe-wide level.
“The UK, such as any country, should act carefully on taking unilateral decisions, since the ports industry is a very competitive market.
“For example, an environmental levy through UK ports could divert traffic to continental ports with the final leg being done by road. This scenario would be much worse in terms of carbon emissions.
“So, as always, there is a balance to be struck.”