Panama Canal kick starts transition to carbon-neutrality by 2030

Bulker passing through the Panama Canal
Panama Canal; Image credit: Panama Canal Authority

The Panama Canal has launched its process of decarbonizing its operations, targeting to become carbon neutral by 2030.

The waterway is seen as a solid way for shipping companies to cut their environmental footprint being a shorter route for ships.

In 2020, the canal authority said it had contributed to a reduction of more than 13 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions.

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However, the waterway believes now is the time to make its own operations carbon neutral by the end of the decade.

“We at the Panama Canal are committed to sustainability, and therefore are laying the foundation, creating the tools, and identifying the changes needed to achieve efficiencies that will allow us as an organization to reach carbon neutrality. This is a fundamental strategy for the waterway’s long-term operation and sustainability,” said Panama Canal Administrator Ricaurte Vásquez Morales.

“This process will build on our long-standing efforts to minimize our environmental impact, including encouraging customers to use clean fuels and reduce their carbon footprint.”
To kick off the transition, the canal authority has purchased four electric vehicles as part of a pilot program that will collect data to inform the migration of the canal’s entire fleet away from fossil fuels.

The decarbonization plan also includes tugboats and launches that use alternative fuels, the substitution of electricity production processes in favor of photovoltaic plants, the use of hydraulic energy, and ensuring that all facilities and infrastructure projects are environmentally responsible and sustainable.  
The Panama Canal first began tracking its carbon footprint in 2013 to align its operations with the global objectives of reducing emissions to combat climate change.

Its plans to become carbon neutral were bolstered in 2017 with the launch of its Emissions Calculator, a tool that allows shipping lines to measure their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per route, and helps the canal analyse emissions produced by its own day-to-day operations.
The Panama Canal has also implemented Maritime Single Window (VUMPA) to bolster the efficiency and carbon footprint of transshipment procedures by streamlining logistics paperwork for international customers passing through the country. As disclosed, it has saved up to 3,260 hours and over 300,000 paper forms each year.
In addition, the Panama Canal also joined on April 22, on Earth Day, the Declaration of the “50 First Carbon-Neutral Organizations”, an initiative led by Panama’s Ministry of Environment to integrate national efforts to accelerate measurable climate actions.
As part of the initiative, the canal plans to develop an annual GHG inventory, as well as an action plan with measurable targets to reduce emissions. The Canal’s efforts will be factored into Panama’s National Determined Contribution (NDC), established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The Panama Canal says that its efforts have stretched beyond tracking through its Green Connection Environmental Recognition Program, which incentivizes customers who demonstrate excellent environmental stewardship, including the use of low-carbon fuels and environmentally conscious routes.

As an enhancement to this program, the Panama Canal is currently analyzing taking into account in its dynamic pricing strategy the vessels’ technology and its carbon footprint, which makes it more efficient during transit.