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New Zealand and China find green ports synergies

October 27, 2023

Which international airport was the first in the world to become ‘climate positive’ (i.e. more than carbon neutral)?  How many civil airports are there in China and how are they becoming greener?  What common challenges are the Port of Auckland and the mega ports of southern China facing as they prepare for an increase in ships fuelled by greener energy?  

Answers:  1) Christchurch International Airport;  2) 255, all subject to and measured against a Civil Aviation Administration of China green airports standard; and 3) quite a few, including fuel bunkering, environmental protection priorities and a shift to electric cranes, vehicles and equipment!  

On 19 October leaders of New Zealand and Chinese airports and sea ports, sector bodies, airlines and shipping lines discussed these and many other common issues during our first New Zealand -China online Green Ports Dialogue co-hosted by the New Zealand China Council and the Shenzhen-based China Development Institute. 

As countries around the world work hard to put in place effective responses to climate change and other huge environmental challenges, the impacts of air and sea transportation are increasingly in focus.  But what about the airports and sea ports preparing to service increasingly clean and green airlines and shipping lines?  And what else are the ports doing to reduce their carbon footprint and become more sustainable businesses in other ways?  

Some key points that emerged from the dialogue were:  

  • China and New Zealand air and sea ports might often be different in scale, but our visions, challenges and focus points are often similar.  
  • Neither country might look first to the other as a natural source of innovation and inspiration in this area compared to the US, Europe and other partners, but in fact we have a lot of experience and technology to offer each other.
  • We are all connected in a huge global logistics and transportation network, and we need to work with as many different partners as we can.  Airlines and shipping lines will increasingly require access to green fuels for refuelling and need ports to bunker it.  Ports need to know which green fuels are likely to be adopted earliest, so they can prepare.  Early and regular communication is key.
  • Huge challenges remain for ports in both countries.  Electricity needs for green ports will be massive, for example – which is where Christchurch Airport’s Kōwhai Park solar array becomes visionary.
  • There is potential for mutually beneficial collaborations between New Zealand and China in this area.  For example exchange of more technical information on green ports standards, reciprocal study visits, even a possible green shipping route such as that which Shanghai has created with Los Angeles under the C40 cities initiative (of which Auckland, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are also members).
  • Above all, ports have a wider impact on our local communities and their climate change and environmental responses than we might think. They are import and export portals for green technologies, equipment and vehicles; a part of the carbon footprints of other goods exports; departure and destination points for travellers increasingly focused on their personal emissions impacts; guardians of neighbouring natural ecosystems and biodiversity; and access points for local communities to those natural places.  

It may be some time before we see an electric or hydrogen-powered aircraft on one of the many direct NZ-China air routes that have recommenced quickly since Covid.  But ports expressed confidence that these big changes, and similar step changes in marine shipping, can be developed and supported.  

A big thank you to New Zealand China Council members Christchurch International Airport and Air New Zealand, as well as the New Zealand Airports Association, the New Zealand Port CEOs Group, Port of Auckland, International Airport and Swire Shipping NZ for participating in this first dialogue.  We look forward to working with you and others in the New Zealand ports sector to continue this worthwhile bilateral engagement.  We also thank the China Development Institute and all the Chinese port companies and organisations that took part. 

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