December 12, 2019, by lzzeb

Investigating Hamburg’s “Green Port”

A blog by Martin Danyluk

From November 29 to December 2, I travelled to Hamburg, Germany, to conduct preliminary fieldwork for a new research project on the environmental politics of “green ports.” This project is a collaboration with Dr. Max Ritts, a postdoctoral researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

In recent years, amid a marine environmental crisis marked by rising sea levels, threats to marine ecosystems and habitats, and the mounting impacts of ocean shipping on the earth’s climate, the maritime industry has faced growing scrutiny from environmentalists, consumers, and governments. In response, a new institutional entity, the “green port,” has emerged with promises to align the ocean-going movement of cargo and people with wider visions of environmental sustainability. So-called green ports now generate a range of materials (publications, videos, social media content, etc.) touting their environmental initiatives, which include berthing reductions, docking credits for quieter vessels, educational outreach programs, and species-conservation efforts in surrounding marine habits.

Our research aims to identify the origins of green-port discourse and policy, trace their dissemination throughout the world, and uncover tensions and contradictions within green-port strategies. Hamburg is one seaport that has made the “green” moniker a central feature of its institutional identity. We used this short research trip to identify key contacts within the local port economy, learn about port-related environmental issues, and familiarise ourselves with the harbour and the city around it. Notably, we conducted two informal interviews with landscape architects who have been involved in environmental projects connected to the port. One of these projects is the Green Barge (Grüne Schute), a 24-metre transport ship that has been converted into a platform for ecological education. We toured the barge the day before it was to be moved into the heart of Hamburg’s harbour, where it will receive students and tourists. We also visited the International Maritime Museum, where we learned how decades of dredging the Elbe River to accommodate bigger, deeper ships has decimated the waterway’s marine life, including smelt populations. Finally, we got a sense of some of the different ways the port is vital to the city’s economy—not least as an important tourist attraction.

I’m looking forward to returning to Hamburg to follow up on the questions that were raised during our visit and, if all goes well, including the Port of Hamburg within a comparative international study of green ports.

The port as tourist attraction: in front of the U-434 Submarine Museum in Hamburg’s harbour

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