Climate change

What are potential impacts of climate change on the Port of Vancouver?

Climate change is an important issue for the Port of Vancouver and the transportation industry, as it is for Canada. The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is taking proactive action to reduce contributions to climate change, and closely monitoring the port jurisdiction for any current impacts.

Our work to address climate change is rooted in the mandate of all Canada Port Authorities to enable Canada’s trade, while protecting the environment and with consideration for communities. Given our mandate, we approach climate change through the lens of ensuring the long-term use of Canada’s trade infrastructure and the livability of our communities.

This work also aligns with our vision to be the world’s most sustainable port. For us, a sustainable port delivers economic prosperity through trade, maintains a healthy environment and enables thriving communities.

Among other things, our mandate and vision mean we must make business decisions that help reduce emissions associated with port activities that contribute to air quality and climate change, lessen the impact of port operations on the environment and human health, and both combat and prepare for any impacts of sea level rise.

Air emissions

We are working to protect air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a number of ways, including:

  • The Northwest Seaport Alliance, through which we partner with the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Environment Canada, Metro Vancouver, and other government stakeholders on the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, which aims to reduce port-related air emissions in the shared Georgia Basin-Puget Sound air shed
  • The shore power program, which to date has prevented the release of air emissions equivalent to those of about 3,900 passenger vehicles driven for one year
  • The EcoAction Program, which offers lower harbour dues for ships that voluntarily reduce their emissions, use cleaner fuels, or reduce the underwater noise they produce
  • The Energy Action initiative, which provides port tenants with resources and technical expertise from the port authority and financial support from BC Hydro, to implement energy-saving measures, install energy measurement and control strategies, and introduce energy management systems
  • The Truck Licensing System that sets environmental requirements for engine age and emissions controls for container trucks that serve the port
  • The Non-Road Diesel Emissions Program, through which we work with port tenants to replace older, higher emission diesel equipment through a combination of fees and rebates
  • The Climate Smart Program, which provides training for port tenants to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

We were pleased to see, in our latest Port Emissions Inventory Report, that the Port of Vancouver community has made significant progress toward reducing air pollutant emissions, which affect air quality. These positive results showcase how regulation can drive tangible emissions-reduction results in the Port of Vancouver.

The inventory results also show, however, that even though greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of cargo are decreasing, total emissions are forecast to continue to increase with growth in trade. This highlights that significant efforts continue to be required going forward. As stewards of Canada’s largest port, we recognize the leadership role we must play in facilitating emission reductions, and will continue to work closely with government, industry and port users to address greenhouse gas emissions.

Besides taking action on greenhouse gases, the port authority is also closely monitoring any current impacts of climate change in the port. To accomplish that, we assess risks, such as sea level rise, and develop resiliency plans to protect port lands and associated trade-related infrastructure.

Flood risks

Currently there are several distinct types of flood risks that could affect the port: flooding by extreme tide (King Tide) or storm surge; flooding by excessive storm water run-off or lack of sufficient drainage; flooding by local streams, exacerbated by extreme rainfall events; and flooding by Fraser River freshet extreme flows.

Since 2012, there have been two extreme tide events that have caused some concern to the port authority. In both cases, the flooding we’ve seen has been at sites along the Burrard Inlet and at two parking lots, resulting in minor inconvenience primarily affecting local traffic and parking. There has been no damage to structures or goods and, to date, hazards affecting workers have been minimal.

However, relatively short-duration and minor flooding is still a concern to us, especially if climate change trends indicate that this may start happening more often at increasing levels of severity. The possibility of an extreme Fraser River freshet is also closely monitored by our Operations Department, who are in regular contact with Emergency Management BC and various weather, river level, and snowpack level forecasting services.

Sea level rise and associated flood risks are issues that have the potential to affect everyone in the region, and require a collaborative approach. To that end, for several years now, the port authority has been an active funding partner in the Fraser Basin Council’s Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy. This charitable non-profit organization, which focuses on advancing sustainability in the Fraser Basin and across B.C., has brought together federal, provincial, and municipal governments, as well as industry stakeholders, utility providers, transportation, First Nations, and agencies such as the airport authority and the port authority. The Fraser Basin Council has done some excellent work in commissioning reports that begin to understand the magnitude of flood risks, future scenarios, and current shortcomings across the region.

Aside from our participation in the Fraser Basin Council’s Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy, the port authority has moved ahead on several initiatives, including acquiring airborne Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) data for port properties to better understand the nature of land that is low-lying or subject to poor drainage; inspecting, mapping and modelling rip-rap shorelines to better monitor and repair shorelines to prevent erosion and loss of land; more stringent review of applications for infrastructure development, with an eye to identifying and mitigating cases where infrastructure may otherwise be at risk; and identifying climate change as a potential risk to the port.

Going forward, the port authority will continue to monitor any effects of climate change, and take action where necessary. Simultaneously, we will continue to take proactive action to reduce port emissions to combat the global challenge of climate change.