Diagram of a working port

“Ports as keystones to our future low carbon society” – Mark Button on Resilience4Ports

As the Resilience4Ports phase one report is launched, on the resilience of the ports ecosystem, we join project leader and maritime engineer, Mark Button, about the experiences and motivations that led him to create the project and why he believes resilience is the unifying theme that can unite multiple agendas facing ports.

Launched in July 2020, the Resilience4Ports initiative brought stakeholders from across the ports value chain together for a major scoping study to identify the challenges and priorities to creating whole-system transformation for ports.

Mark Button, Senior Engineer Arup and Resilience4Ports Project Leader

Mark, a senior Engineer at Arup, traces his interest in maritime engineering back to his upbringing near Gower in South Wales where a knack for physics and maths and the location on the coast meant working in the coastal built environment was a natural fit. After studying civil engineering at Cardiff University he joined Arup as a graduate in 2010, retaining his childhood interest in maritime and design. “Something about the power of nature on the coast appealed to me; good engineering design can work with this rather than try to dominate it”.

That interest still drives him, so too the need to transform society that is sustainable and just. “Infrastructure is at the heart of this: we need a resilience and low-carbon foundation on which society and nature can flourish”.

When the Resilience4ports project was launched, that focus on transformation was key, “The Resilience Shift’s message that a transformational approach to our critical infrastructure is needed, really resonated with me”.

He is also clear on the need to integrate decarbonation and resilience agendas and the challenge of working with the complex ports ecosystem, “The opportunity to work with people, around the world, who work in different ways on ports – to shape a change for the industry – was one I jumped at”.

At the end of phase one of the Resilience4Ports project, consensus is forming on the issue of resilience. “The message on resilience is landing and people see its value”. The next challenge though is “producing practical actions to take forward which continue to engage the whole value chain”.

How has a tumultuous year for the ports and maritime industry impacted the project?

For the ports industry, Covid has thrown up clear short-term economic stressors but Mark is clear that tackling these challenges should not put off  tackling the long-term issues Resilience4Ports is trying to address. Quite the opposite. “Covid recovery plans offer an opportunity to embed these transformations with resilience as a golden threat to tie together competing demands”.

The report on Resilience4Ports: Gateways to a resilient future is now published
The report on Resilience4Ports: Gateways to a resilient future is now published

What do these port transformations look like?

From phase one of Resilience4Ports it is clear that decarbonisation, smart technology and the need to operate in a sustainable way all need to be integrated. Mark says that resilience is the perfect framework for uniting these agendas “…by focusing on what the port system does, and by making sure ports function no matter what challenges come their way and by bringing the port community together”.

“Change will mean planning and delivering transformation – whether a new port energy system or a new community engagement programme – in a way that responds to long term uncertainty, as well as short term efficiency. This is an opportunity for ports to attract investment and unlock rapid decarbonisation”.

Examples already exist of this kind of innovation taking place. Mark points out the work of the Port of Tyne’s 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub which is bringing people together to collaborate on future challenges. The project has covered digital transformation, autonomous vessels, cyber security, all with collaboration in mind.  “I think this is a great example of a port working across their value chain to think about and plan for the future”, he says.

With 2021 shaping up to be a year of decisions on Covid recovery plans and the UK hosting COP26 in Glasgow, the Resiience4Ports initiative can play into both agendas. A key pillar of Resilience4Ports is linked to port financing – and the opportunity for the Covid-19 recovery to invest in port transformation.  We want to investigate how these investments can enhance not just ports, but the wider systems they are part of – transport, energy, digital – and help channel finance towards ports. 

On COP26, there is momentum forming ahead of the meeting, with discussions underway to have ports be on the agenda. Resilience4Ports is key to both the Race to Zero and Race to Resilience campaigns. Mark insists, “We want to shape the kind of transformative action that’s needed to meet our climate goals and be prepared for our already changed climate.”

Outside of the headlines though, other long-term changes continue to gather pace. Smart ports in particular present an opportunity for ports to develop and trial new technology so too the opportunity to run operations on lower emission fuel sources. He is excited by “The opportunity for some ports to act as low carbon energy hubs, catalysing change in transport, industry and energy systems around them. Hydrogen is a key piece of the net-zero puzzle in which ports will play a major role.”

“With ports as keystones to our future low carbon society – we must ensure they are resilient”.

Find out more about Resilience4Ports

See the report: Resilience4Ports: Gateways to a resilient future

With thanks to Mark Button.

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