Building a maritime sector that thrives in a world of mounting climate and geopolitical shocks and stresses

CEO of Resilience Rising, Seth Schultz explains why and how the maritime sector is putting resilience on an equal footing with mitigation. By Charlotte Owen-Burge | November 10, 2022

What progress has been made to date to create a resilient maritime sector?

Maritime shipping is responsible for transporting 90% of the world’s trade in goods. Maritime infrastructure underpins the global economy and the supply chains, including food and healthcare, that livelihoods depend upon. It is also a major contributor to greenhouse gases, with maritime vessels responsible for 3% of the world’s annual emissions. The industry has made important strides toward decarbonization, including a series of ambitious commitments at COP26 to reduce emissions in alignment with IPCC guidance to maintain global temperature rise below 1.5C.

Ports play a crucial role in the maritime system and the communities that connect to it, providing critical linkages between shipping routes and road and rail connections on land. Ports are facing multiple transformations: towards low carbon, smart logistics hubs that act in harmony with the environment, delivering increased value for communities. There is a risk that a lack of progress or lack of integration of these agendas will create fragility in ports rather than enhancing their critical functions. The world around us is changing faster than ever, and the speed of change is not going to slow down. As such, we cannot delay action – just see what happened to the world’s supply chains in response to external stressors such as Hurricanes Katrina and Ian, Covid 19 and BREXIT.

What does the creation of a resilient maritime sector entail?

A resilient maritime sector is one that is equipped to withstand and adapt to changing conditions and recover positively from shocks and stresses, whether they be related to climate hazards, geopolitical uncertainty, technological change, decarbonization efforts, or other unforeseen disruptors. A resilient maritime sector requires coordinated actions and transformation across all system elements, from vessel and cargo owners to downstream logistics providers. Because ports connect shipping and supply corridors and are facing some of the most urgent and costly climate-related impacts, port systems are the initial focus of the Maritime Resilience Breakthroughs.

What shocks and stressors face the maritime industry now and how are these expected to evolve/change over the next decade?

Ports face cumulative pressure from climate change, geopolitical uncertainty, net zero commitments, technological disruption, and the urgent need for social and environmental equity. These challenges, alongside their essential role in global systems, elevate ports as an initial focal point in advancing a resilience-based approach to the transformation of maritime infrastructure. In an increasingly complex and uncertain global economy, resilience is essential to supporting the business continuity of ports and the broader supply chains reliant on ports, ensuring inclusive and equitable economic development, and protecting our natural resources.

The world around us is changing faster than ever, and the speed of change is not going to slow down. As such, we cannot delay action – just see what happened to the world’s supply chains in response to external stressors such as Hurricanes Katrina and Ian, Covid 19 and BREXIT

Who or what is responsible for assessing risks to the industry/details of how these are measured?

Resilience needs the whole system to function, not just individual assets within the system. A port is a complex system of connected elements, itself embedded in an array of external systems. Ports are a confluence of the natural world and man-made systems. We recognize that very few organizations have the remit to take a whole system view – boundaries are often there for a reason. But by bringing together the value chain from across the port system, and by demonstrating resilience value to everyone – not just end users – we can realize change.

The value chain of ports, beyond owners and operators, includes policy makers, financiers, engineers and designers, and local communities, among others. This value chain sits within a broader system of other maritime stakeholders, including fuel suppliers, vessel operators, and cargo owners. Across this system, stakeholders have their own specific remits and priorities, areas of expertise, memberships, and geographical contexts. This complex and fragmented governance system has resulted in a lack of knowledge transfer between sectors and limited collective engagement in developing solutions to addressing resilience and climate adaptation. All levels of society will need to fully embrace maritime resiliency for the planet to survive and thrive into the future.

In a world faced with deep uncertainties and complex interdependencies, how easy will it be to create a resilient maritime sector?

Building a network of ports and communities, supported by a breadth of partners, that seek to evaluate, co-create and test solutions across a variety of resilience issues is the core focus of Maritime Resilience Breakthroughs program. While the program will focus initially on ports, given their pivotal role and acute climate risk exposures, it is intended to be scalable and encompass other elements of the maritime system. Our initial Maritime Resilience Breakthroughs include the following goals by 2030:

  • Resilient Infrastructure: 30% of global maritime trade moves through climate adapting ports, connecting people and supply chains, with a focus on benefitting the world’s most vulnerable regions.
  • Resilient Coastal and Ocean Systems: Across all regions, port and their communities protect and enhance local coastal and ocean systems through nature-based solutions, to build port resilience and support thriving natural habitats.
  • Resilient Human Settlements: Across all regions, ports and their communities implement equity-focused social programs including around green jobs and community infrastructure that enable thriving ports and port communities.

Through this work, we aim to mobilize a critical mass to create the scale and momentum necessary to break through the industry’s barriers to resilience. Our efforts will reinforce ports as a leading global example of a just and equitable, net zero transition that prioritizes and effectively implements resilience.

What milestones must be achieved to reduce climate risks through adaptation action and building resilience?

The following milestones and actions must be taken:

  • Identify critical research and findings that serve as the basis for collaborative study, design and implementation of priority solutions.
  • Define priority solutions and metrics that benefit the ports system as well as the in-land and maritime systems and broader communities that rely upon them.
  • Pilot priority solutions with partners through concrete action plans and monitoring and evaluation of defined impact metrics.
  • Share findings from pilot activities and scaling of successful approaches and activities by partners with clear ownership and lines of responsibility.
  • Establish a longer-term ports and cities network that can implement, iterate upon, and take the program’s solutions to scale.

How do we ensure commitments from the sector are converted into concrete action?

While the urgent case for action is increasingly accepted, many stakeholder communities still largely work in silos and few platforms exist for truly collaborative and inclusive solutions engineering and/or deployment. Achieving the breakthroughs and unlocking resilience will require a whole value chain and whole system approach, going beyond the adaptation of physical infrastructure to shape people, processes and nature. The Maritime Resilience Breakthroughs Lab seeks to create a convening and development platform that draws upon the expertise of key communities of practice to co-create solutions and pathways to deliver. Deep collaboration between these stakeholders must be fostered across three dimensions: economy and society; leadership and strategy; and infrastructure and ecosystems.

What is the investment/cost implication for building a resilient maritime industry?

True maritime resilience will require actions and investments from across the global marine value chain. These will be identified and quantified as we continue to deliver the program. The costs will be higher, but much lower than if we take no actions.

What policy signals does the industry need to see?

A political-economy and finance sector that fosters long-term thinking, collaboration and innovation is critical to port resilience. Governments, investors, and civil society can create a platform that drives and supports port climate adaptation. There is also a need for Government policy, industrial strategy, and maritime sector plans to embed resilience at and through ports, acknowledging opportunities for wider port transformation (such as decarbonization and digitalization) to unlock resilience.

The time is now. The world is currently facing a rash of ever-expanding and evolving threats to our way of lives. Global sea-levels rises, more frequent and intense storms, wars, famine, lack of drinking water, social inequities, pandemics, and cyber-attacks represent just a few of the challenges we will face over the next few years directly attributable to global climate change and the maritime environs. By acting now across the ports value chain, we can make the changes needed to make the planet a better place to live for all.

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