Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

New York, NY
United States

Dirty diesel is at the heart of port pollution and public health problems across the world. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has been a pioneer in reducing pollution related to shipping and ports in the United States. It coordinated the U.S. government, the private sector, and members of the International Maritime Organization to create an Emissions Control Area that requires cleaner, lower-sulfur marine fuels. This initiative is expected to reduce particulate pollution from ships at U.S. ports and off U.S. coasts by more than 85 percent by 2020. Since 2013, NRDC has also been working in China to reduce emissions from ports and shipping throughout the country with partners including Civic Exchange and Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities.

Particulate matter emissions follow global shipping lanes, where the emissions from trucks, locomotives, cargo-handling equipment, and ships contribute to increased rates of asthma, cancers, heart attacks, and premature deaths, especially in the communities that are closest to ports and related activities. Diesel particles are particularly toxic and have been found to be carcinogenic by the World Health Organization. Beyond particulate soot emissions, nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel engines increase regional ozone levels, threatening the health and environment of entire regions. The effects are also global—these engines emit large quantities of black carbon, a short-lived climate pollutant that is accelerating glacial and polar ice melting. Consequently, emissions from these engines add to the impacts of climate change and drinking water scarcity.

NRDC’s 2014 white paper, The Prevention and Control of Shipping and Port Emissions in China, generated extensive coverage in both Chinese and western media, bringing increased public and government awareness to the issue of port and shipping-related air pollution. In a short span of time, NRDC and its partners have had an impact on China’s policymakers. In 2015, China adopted significant revisions to its 15-year-old Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law, including amendments signaling a huge breakthrough in mitigating air pollution from shipping and port-related activities. Research and technical assistance from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Ports Project informed the Ministry of Transport’s detailed Marine Pollution Prevention and Control Implementation Plan, the first concrete action from the central government to address air pollution emissions from ships and ports’ activities. The Plan also includes NRDC’s top objective: defining specific “emission control areas” for ships traveling along China’s coastal waters.


23 months
For its environmental and climate governance capacity building project
Environmental Governance
database icon

Our online database includes grants made by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund over the past five years.