Dr. HARRY BARNES-DABBAN, Executive Coordinator
Most African ports have in the last decade seen institutional restructuring and reform in a bid to not only modernise infrastructure but to also enhance productivity, efficiency and quality of service delivery. This has successfully attracted private sector involvement in the ports and significantly improved port operational performance. The reform progress however does not reflect conscious environmental and sustainability improvements in the ports. It has mostly focused on renovating and modifying port infrastructure to strengthen the individual economic positions of the ports. Integrating the restructuring with environmental roles and actions to achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability remain limited, unsystematic and fragmented.

However, in the face of continual decline of the overall global environmental quality and increasing pressures on world resources, African ports as part of the global maritime community are faced with a reality they cannot ignore. They are obliged to take responsibility in applying and committing themselves to a green transition with innovations necessary to meet sustainable development obligations required of them.

African ports share common environmental and sustainability challenges, but the ports inherently operate as fragmented individual entities with little recourse to the linkages of these challenges among them.
Improving sustainability is a challenge to ports globally but it is also a driver for change. It can only be tackled through partnerships and collaboration, if its full benefits must be realised. The ports sector connects many actors in a chain. No port in the chain can be really effective if viewed in isolation. Actions impacting one port can have an impact throughout the entire chain.
African ports must therefore of necessity initiate proactive and innovative actions and mechanisms that integrate environmental sustainability considerations into the overall port planning, policy making, operations and management to promote their sustainable development. The drivers inducing the institutional restructuring and reform of African ports are equally imperative for nurturing and supporting the environmental sustainability of the ports. The ports must therefore collaboratively pay attention to understanding the dynamics of their institutional reform, appearance and participation of the private sector in port operations, global environmental and sustainability practices and obligations, and the common character of their environmental and sustainability challenges to co-develop solutions and actions for their sustainable development.

African Ports Voluntarily Committing to Improving Their Sustainability Futures

African ports, under the Sustainable Ports Partnership (SPP) project between the World Bank and the Ports Management Association for West and Central Africa (PMAWCA), have begun developing an Environmental Sustainability Framework to provide a standard guide for scoring and rating a harmonised port environmental and social sustainability performance. The process, which is being facilitated by PENAf (Ports Environmental Network-Africa), kicked off on 29th April 2021 and will run till June 2022, after which the ports are expected to have built adequate capacity and financing mechanism for sustaining the partnership in the long term. The Partnership has set the tone for participating ports to evolve common environmental and social sustainability solutions together. It is providing them a cooperative mechanism for inclusive interaction to mutually build a common understanding of priority environmental sustainability risks and develop their own set of performance criteria for continuous environmental sustainability improvements while reducing negative impacts from their development and operations. To achieve this, participating ports have through virtual meetings, prioritised four issues – air quality, waste management, energy efficiency, and coastal erosion – and developing a sustainability scenario and benchmarks for an integrated and coherent approach to deepen their interest and commitment to continuous environmental and social sustainability improvement.

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