Innovation, climate and policy discussed at the BPC 2021
The Baltic Ports Conference 2021, hosted by the Port of Tallinn, concluded yesterday. Among the topics discussed were the future shape of the maritime sector, as well as ports’ role as entrepreneurs, innovation drivers and alternative energy hubs. The event also marked Baltic Ports Organization’s (BPO) 30th anniversary, celebrated by looking at the evolution of the port sector over the past decades.
It wasn’t an easy choice to move BPO’s most important, annual event to the online realm but the event proved a great success, gathering a broad audience and staying true to its tradition of providing a stage for some of the port sector’s most influential representatives.
Towards a green future
It will not come as a surprise that topics related to environmental issues were very present throughout the day. As the European Commission continues to push for the whole transport industry to become greener via initiatives such as the “Fit for 55 proposal”, it becomes increasingly important for ports to plan accordingly. Measures expected to be implemented, such as shore power facilities, can’t be a burden that the ports have to bear alone. Especially smaller ports may struggle in this regard as the proposed regulations applies to core and comprehensive ports equally.
There was a word mentioned by multiple speakers and panelists participating in the BPC 2021 - cooperation. Ports may take the role of facilitators of change, but involvement of all parties making up the port ecosystem is crucial if the industry wants to meet the ambitious goals set by the European Commission.
The role policymakers play in the process is also an incredibly important one. The proposed emission cuts need to be achievable not only technically but also economically, taking into account the diversity that characterizes the port industry. No two ports are the same, differing when it comes to size, location and the types of traffic they attract. Moreover, all stakeholders acting in ports should be involved.
Geopolitical aspects also become more and more impactful, as the EU moves forward with its green policies. Taking the Baltic Sea region as an example, the fact that not all countries in the area are obliged to adhere to the rules proposed by EU’s policymakers, may have a direct impact on the overall competitiveness of Baltic ports in the decades to come. A possible shift of business towards ports from outside the EU is a valid concern and as such, the idea of equal rules for everyone must be considered in a broader, geopolitical context.
Thankfully, the face of ports, traditionally seen as rather stagnant and conservative when it comes to change, is a today a wholly different one. While the complex nature of a port ecosystem brings with it a set of challenges that make rapid shifts in their development plans difficult, it is also one of their strengths.
It is becoming more and more common for the ports to take up the role of innovation drivers and orchestrators of actions that in the end transform no just the port itself, but also the surrounding body of companies. As the crossroads between land and sea, ports are the perfect testing ground for new technologies that may also help them and the whole maritime transport sector, prepare for and achieve the goals set before them.
The focus put by the policymakers on shore power and alternative fuels, such as hydrogen, doesn’t come as a surprise to an industry that has been implementing the former for a number of years in the Baltic Sea region alone. The case is similar with gas-based alternative fuels. Experience and knowledge gathered during the still ongoing development of the Baltic liquefied natural gas (LNG) bunkering network will come very handy during the green transition.
And then there’s also digitalization process. The conference’s host, Port of Tallinn, serves as a great example for utilizing digital tools in order to increase efficiency and in turn reduce the impact the port has on the climate and environment. The crucial point is - legislation needs to be future-proof and stand the test of time. Technology is moving forward and the maritime industry is ready to make use of it but port development and investment plans are long-term affairs and must be understood as such by all parties involved in sketching the future of the transport sector.
See you in Gdynia!
The Baltic Ports Conference will return on 7-8 September, 2022, taking us to Gdynia, Poland. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, it will offer the opportunity to finally meet in person and raise a glass to commemorate BPO’s 30th birthday, which the Organization is celebrating this year. And next year will mark an important date for the host of the BPC 2022, Port of Gdynia, celebrating its 100th birthday.
Please head to BPO’s LinkedIn channel where you can see how its Member’s changed and evolved during the years, as well as re-watch the BPC 2021 stream for some wonderful visual impressions of the history of the Baltic port sector. There is still more to come this year, so make sure to keep an eye out for future publications commemorating BPO’s history.
The recording of the BPC 2021 can be accessed on BPO’s official YouTube channel.