From record rainfall to scorching summers, to drought and rising sea levels, the effects of global climate change are becoming ever more visible. Yet, governments are divided in their response on how best to tackle it. While some pretend that there is no problem, others are engaged in safeguarding their own slice of the planet. So bad is the sense of paralysis, that experts have been calling upon nations to take politics out of the equation.
In such a charged environment, it has become even more important for big businesses and corporates to take the lead. This is why SEA20, a not-for-profit forum run by global marine technology leader Wärtsilä and think tank Nordic West Office, holds special significance. The goal here is to build an efficient, digitally connected and environmentally sound ‘smart ecosystem’.
SEA20 brings together the world’s greatest marine cities and leading marine companies, organisations, and experts to rethink the role of cities in the marine ecosystem. Here, SEA stands for Smart and Ecologically-Ambitious, while the number 20 reflects the number of marine cities that Wärtsilä aims to recruit to the initiative by 2020.
Cities including Rotterdam, Hamburg, Helsinki, Vaasa, Luleå, Trieste and the State of Washington have already signed up and are working on innovative solutions to address the various bottlenecks in the marine industry. This includes embracing digitalisation, adopting global best practices, and legislating smarter and more sustainable ways of doing business.
“My ultimate vision is for the great maritime cities of the world to have a common voice that pushes forward the agenda of sustainability, the agenda of modern urban planning and the agenda of free trade,” says Risto Erkki Juhani Penttilä, CEO of Nordic West office.
The shipping and maritime industry hold the greatest promise to fulfil all three of these objectives. After all, over 90% of world trade is carried by sea. Improving efficiencies in this sector can have a cascading effect that will aid sustainability, open up more avenues for collaboration between governments, cities and companies, and also promote free trade.
The latter, feels Penttilä, is especially important as development, throughout history, has been driven by both maritime cities and free trade. Developing the two and making them stronger, he says, will help cope with the turbulent times the world is going through.
Initiatives such as the UK government’s recent ‘UK Ports for International Trade’ campaign are an example of this, designed as it is to promote free trade as a key driver for growth and prosperity in marine cities. However, coming at a time when Brexit is shaking up the global economy, Penttilä says the importance of a united approach must not be understated.
“It’s not only Brexit, but also about trade wars and economic nationalism. It seems there are a lot of clouds in the sky that are preventing us from seeing the benefits of free trade,” he explains. “It is hugely important that marine cities form a common voice defending free trade. And yes, it is important to keep Britain onboard.”
The SEA20 campaign aims to give marine cities that common voice, and present them with the information they need to take effective decisions. After all, cities are a nexus for political power and can help drive the adoption of essential digital and sustainability initiatives that the maritime industry needs to effect real change.
“The more we move into a technology-driven world, the slower the reactions from international regulatory agencies and states are going to be. Cities have to be quicker. And if they cooperate with ports and with companies, they can have a greater impact than states and have a voice in the global debates,” says Penttilä.
Marine cities are gearing up, and now, it is the turn of the shipping and maritime industry to play its part in the war against climate change by transitioning to zero-emission operations. While efforts are underway, rapid change must be incentivised to make the transition happen more quickly. This, Penttilä says, will require stakeholders to understand how much they have to gain by working together.
“In the shipping industry, different players need to realise that they can achieve much more by cooperating. If they are on their own, they are going to be hit by regulations. But if they move forward together and show the way to sustainability together, they will have a much smoother ride,” he explains. “Cooperation between ports, cities and companies is the key.”