The annual Baltic Ports Organization’s (BPO) debate at the European Parliament (EP), hosted by Andris Ameriks MEP from Latvia, Vice-Chairman on Transport and Tourism Committee, took place yesterday in an online setting. Multiple representatives of the European ports sector gathered to discuss topics vital to the development of the industry, among them the European Green Deal (EGD) and the revision of the TEN-T policy.
These days it is impossible to discuss any issue without also mentioning the ongoing challenge the COVID-19 pandemic poses for all countries and industries. Mr Ameriks, who opened the debate, underscored the role ports will play in the recovery process, “it is absolutely clear that lives of the people after pandemic will change, but the economy will grow again and ports will play a key role in economic recovery. I believe that all together we will succeed to create the necessary preconditions for all of this.”
He continued on to summarize the numerous challenges at hand, “the role of the European Union in the future is particularly important. On the one hand, we have set very ambitious plans for climate change and ecology in Europe, the TEN-T policy has been clarified, digital issues, and on the other hand, the COVID pandemic has affected all the work in this sector, just like any other sector.
There is also a third party that has affected some of the Baltic ports. And that is geopolitics. European Union sanctions against Russia, events in Belarus have affected the work of several Baltic ports.”
The EGD, its goals and the green transition were one of the more intensely discussed topics. While the initiative remains a welcome one, the implementation process leaves a number of question marks. The pace at which the EC is creating new proposals, especially in a period, where meetings and debates are difficult to have, may be a reason for concern.
Urgent issues need time and a goal based approach. Taking the diversity of the port and shipping sectors into account, is crucial. A one size fits all solution is simply not viable.
Another big concern for the European ports is how the EU seemingly abandoned its support for liquefied natural gas (LNG), for years perceived and lauded as the fuel for the transition period. Over the past years, ports made significant investments in the infrastructure necessary to offer LNG as an alternative fuel, with the Baltic Sea region (BSR) being one of the frontrunners. This effort cannot go to waste.
Speaking of fuels and energy, it is worth mentioning, that the EGD foresees ports becoming energy hubs. While this in itself is welcome, as ports have long played an important role in energy supply, it also creates a very viable challenge. For a great number of ports, the transition to green energy sources will lead to a significant loss in cargo, due to decreased and ultimately abandoned use of fossil fuels (crude oil, gas, coal).
These losses will need to be compensated for and time will be required for preparing infrastructure necessary for the use of alternative fuels.
Onshore power supply (OPS) was one of the topics that stood out once the participants turned their attention to ideas for sustainable and smart mobility. OPS technology has been mentioned in the EGD as one of viable solutions in support of the decarbonisation process.
That said, OPS implementation needs a smart approach. It must be backed by an actual business case. It doesn’t always make sense for a port to invest in shore power and pushing it too hard may be a potential field for a lot of stranded assets. Large-scale implementation would also require additional, often difficult steps, such as the revision of electricity taxation in many countries.
Naturally, the debate wouldn’t be complete without talking about financing. Numerous issues were raised during the past Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) funding period and the extreme disproportion between the strategic role of ports and the amount of financing that was sent their way in comparison to other transport sectors.
Maritime transport has the potential to become green at a much faster pace than the rail or road sector, but it needs to be supported on an equal footing. Further disproportions in the distribution of funds can be found within the port sector itself, with the comprehensive ports seeing far less support than their core counterparts.