Ports and Climate Change, Part 1, the state of play in European ports with Valter Sélen, ESPO

Sustainable ports and climate change
Valter Selén
Valter Selén
Senior Policy Advisor for Sustainable Development, EUROPEAN SEA PORTS ORGANISATION (ESPO)
Weather & Environment

How ports should adapt to and prepare for climate change-related risks with Valter Selén, ESPO


Climate change is already exposing ports to more extreme weather occurrences and these can cause millions in damage in repair and downtime, in addition to risking worker safety.

This blog series focuses on the topic of ports and climate change. Vaisala interviews maritime and port professionals who present interesting views on how ports could adapt their operations to avoid weather-related problems before they happen, how ports could be better prepared for climate change related risks and how to mitigate the effects of unavoidable events by using smart technology.

Part 1: How ports should adapt to and prepare for climate change related risks — the state of play in European ports
Interviewee: Valter Selén, Senior Policy Advisor for Sustainable Development, European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO)

Interview questions:

  1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your interest and connection to sustainability and climate change.

    I joined ESPO as Senior Policy Advisor for Sustainable Development in June 2020, having previously worked with drafting the first annual EU MRV Report during my time in the European Commission (DG CLIMA). I have focused my career on EU climate policy and sustainable development, particularly on the maritime sector where specific legislation aimed at the sector is currently being developed. My background is in EU governance, and I have a double master’s degree in European Governance from the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands and Konstanz University, Germany.

    Since ESPO represents all ports in maritime EU Member States and Norway, my work provides an opportunity to promote ambitious climate and environmental policy, as European ports are leading the way on these issues in the maritime sector.

  2. How important do you see the adaption for climate change-related risks to European ports, and at what stage are European ports in this journey?

    Ports experience the negative effects of global warming first-hand, from rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions to erosion. The 2022 IPCC report highlights the various ways in which ports are vulnerable to climate change. This includes the risk of sea level rise and flooding, susceptibility to disruption and damage due to changes in wind, wave, heat or fog characteristics, and for instance microbiological corrosion of steel marine structures.

    Since 2020, over half of the surveyed European ports consistently report that they experience operational challenges that could be related to climate change, such as more frequent storms, flooding, and changes in wind or wave conditions. The number of ports reporting such challenges has also increased in the past few years.

    Standstills in operation and heat stress caused by extreme conditions have far-reaching human and financial costs. In light of these negative effects, successfully engaging in climate adaptation is an existential question for ports and the larger port communities. This helps explain why our annual environmental reports (see the ESPO Environmental Report 2021) consistently find that climate change is one of the top environmental priorities of European ports.

    In keeping with the seriousness of the challenge facing ports, ports are increasingly seeking ways to address the challenge. Port infrastructures must be built to withstand flooding and storms. In 2021, the ESPO Environmental Report found that 65% of surveyed ports take steps to strengthen the resilience of existing infrastructure against climate change-related challenges. Furthermore, European ports also give greater consideration to climate change adaptation as part of new infrastructure development projects in ports.

    Nonetheless, climate change makes port infrastructure more expensive. Increased funding possibilities are therefore necessary to cover the growing financial burden of adaptation. Increased monitoring by ports of meteorological conditions as well as the state of port infrastructure is crucial to accurately estimate risks and vulnerabilities associated with climate change. It is also important for individual ports to consider potential redundancies and their emergency capacity in case of operational challenges.

    On the European level, ESPO calls for mainstreaming climate adaptation in EU legislation, and for monitoring the impact of climate change on European ports as strategic infrastructure. We also request dedicated funding under European instruments for climate-proofing (CEF, Innovation/Modernisation Fund). ESPO also tries to provide ports with the necessary tools to climate-proof their operations, including through the environmental management offered by the EcoPorts Network, the ESPO Green Guide, and the good green practices database.

  3. The European Commission adopted the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change in early 2021. How do you think this changes their relationship with ports on climate investment? How will funding play a stronger role, in your opinion?

    The Strategy provides a good starting point for encouraging climate adaptation in ports, and European ports very much welcome the efforts of the European Commission to highlight the situation of ports. The Strategy is intended to chart the pathway to a climate-resilient EU by 2050, which will require moving from a reactive to a proactive posture on the European level and in individual ports. It remains to be seen whether the Commission and EU policies will adequately mainstream climate adaptation, and we would call for further recognition of ports as critical infrastructure in terms of climate change adaptation.

    Such recognition is crucial for motivating the strengthening the funding possibilities for adaptation infrastructure and investment, where investments should be based on data-driven climate-proofing guidance. In light of the recently published Fit for 55 proposals, there is an opportunity to provide such funding using revenues from a maritime EU Emission Trading System (ETS), and to seek synergies so that climate-proofing becomes an integral part of the installation or renewal of port infrastructure.

  4. How did the EcoPorts Network come about? What mitigation and adaption for climate change topics have you learned, and how can that be replicated across other continents?

    EcoPorts is the main environmental initiative of the European port sector, and it was launched by a number of proactive ports in 1997. Since 2011, the Network has been fully integrated in ESPO. The founding principle of EcoPorts is to create a level playing field on environment through cooperation and sharing of knowledge between ports. EcoPorts provides ports with well-established tools for greening, by making it easy for them to monitor, evaluate and compare their environmental management over time. We are currently working with international partners to work out how we can better share lessons learned and good practices in relation to climate change and adaptation.

    Based on data from EcoPorts members, ESPO also publishes an annual environmental report that follows trends in key indicators over time. Climate adaptation is one key indicator, which is becoming increasingly relevant for Network members and policymakers alike. In my role as coordinator for the EcoPorts network, I draft these annual reports and look at how the environmental indicators can be improved upon in order to better reflect the challenges facing ports.

  5. How can ESPO work further with the likes of the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to communicate best practices in climate adoption?

    ESPO and individual ports are already working closely with the IAPH and Navigating a Changing Climate (NaCC) on this very issue. For individual ports, IAPH and IMO provide key insights and provide the platforms for exchanging best practices and discussing next steps on the international level.

  6. For ports that are considering investing in climate-resilient activities or related technologies, how should they get started?

    The ESPO Green Guide is an excellent starting point for ports as it provides general guidance on how ports can engage in greening on their own or together with the other stakeholders in the port. Together with ESPO colleagues, I am also continuously informing our members about available funding opportunities and raising the issue of climate adaptation with EU policymakers. Additionally, NaCC provides useful reporting on port adaptation to climate change.

    The European Sea Ports Organisation or ESPO, founded in 1993, is the representative body of the port authorities, port associations and port administrations of the seaports of the member states of the European Union and of Norway. Its membership includes ports from non-member states of the EU which are admitted under observer status. ESPO ensures that seaports have a clear voice in the European Union. The organization promotes the common interests of its members throughout Europe and is also engaged in dialogue with European stakeholders in the Port and Maritime sector.

Read more - Ports and climate change, Part 2: Ports facing changing climatic risk with Michael Yarwood, TT Club.
Read more - Ports and climate change, Part 3: How World Ports Sustainability Program is driving the sustainability efforts of ports worldwide with Antonis Michail, IAPH

Learn more: Sustainable ports with Vaisala

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