The maritime sector can play a key role in the green recovery

The British Ports Association's sector recovery plan includes the front-loading of planned and new infrastructure projects, but also a specific focus on green infrastructure | Credit: BPA

British Ports Association 3 min read06 July Commercial As the Chancellor looks to restart the economy, he will find in maritime a sector that is full of ambition but one that has yet to see the level of funding or interest from Government that other industries have.

When King David 1st of Scotland allowed the Bishop of Aberdeen Harbour to start charging vessels entering the harbour in 1136, he probably didn't realise that his business model would still be in operation 884 years later. Ports are not always what comes to mind when talking innovation - many have been trading gateways for millennia - but the sector is key to unlocking some of the big economic, technical and environmental challenges the UK currently faces. Last month the Port of London welcomed the HMM Algeciras into the Thames, the largest container ship in the world - four times longer than Parliament's clock tower.

Ports are constantly pushing the boundaries to ensure these vital calls happen safely and efficiently: 95% of our trade arrives by sea, with nearly 200,000 vessels calling in the UK every year - not all carrying cargo: cruise ships, fishing vessels, leisure craft, rigs and offshore support vessels all support jobs and local economies.

The British Ports Association's sector recovery plan includes the front-loading of planned and new infrastructure projects, but also a specific focus on green infrastructure.

Key workers across the ports sector have been making sure that the country remains supplied with food, medicines, and other essentials throughout the pandemic. Whilst the wheels have kept turning, many ports have unsurprisingly found operating conditions extremely tough this year. The British Ports Association's sector recovery plan includes the front-loading of planned and new infrastructure projects, but also a specific focus on green infrastructure.

With Governments around the world spending trillions to keep economies afloat, with more to come, we see the opportunity in focussing this stimulus into existing priorities such as climate change. This time last year the industry welcomed the Government's 'Clean Maritime Plan'. The challenges set out in this roadm-ap remain as urgent as ever and as the Chancellor looks to restart the economy, he will find in maritime a sector that is full of ambition but one that has yet to see the level of funding or interest from Government that other industries have.

Ports are innovative but barriers to decarbonising are high. The ships being built today will still be sailing in 2050 but they are still being made to burn fossil fuels. As we do not know what the zero-emission fuel of the future will be, ports cannot build the infrastructure to provide it.

Even mature technologies can struggle to find a business case in a highly competitive sector with low margins: no port in the world has managed to plug in visiting ships to the electricity grid, allowing them to switch off their engines at berth - without public funding. Ports are the beating heart of many coastal communities - in many the cases the reason why they were established hundreds or thousands of years ago. We have made the case elsewhere that ports can play a big role in industrial policy with a bold an ambitious freeports programme, pushing prosperity out to our frontiers instead of pooling it in one region.

Now we urge those in power across the UK to overcome policy makers' traditional 'sea blindness' and unleash the innovative potential of the sector in tackling climate change.

The launch of Maritime Research and Innovation UK (MarRI-UK) last year was a good, small first step, now it is time to show the world we mean business.

A wider green maritime fund and renewed partnership with industry would demonstrate that as well as being the first country to legislate for net zero, we are prepared to put our money where our mouth is and ensure that when the ports sector gets back on its feet, it won't be business as usual ever again.

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