Riding the Waves of Change

The global ports and maritime sector continues to face significant challenges to safeguard existing assets and strengthen future trade, while leaning into the climate crisis.

Ports are critical infrastructure. In Australia, they provide a gateway to economic prosperity with over 98 per cent of trade passing through them annually.

Gavin Wearne (Regional Director, East Coast and Director, Ports & Marine) at BG&E Resources (BGER) says, “Our seaports are among some of the most critical yet vulnerable assets across our island nation, which are being impacted by climate change. Coastal areas are susceptible to sea level rises, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and the very real changes that are occurring to our marine ecosystem.”

Oceans Are Changing

According to the State of the Climate 2022 Report, which was prepared by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia’s oceans are being heavily impacted.

  • Sea surface temperatures around Australia have warmed by over one degrees Celsius, since 1900.
  • The world’s oceans have taken up 91 per cent of the extra energy stored by the planet, as a result of enhanced Greenhouse Gas (GHG) concentrations. Some regions, including around Australia, are warming several times faster than the global mean.
  • Rates of sea level rise since 1993 vary across Australian, with the largest increases occurring in the North and South-East, of the country.
  • The acidification of the oceans bordering Australia continues, with pH-levels decreasing faster than in prior decades.
Impact on Ports and Critical Supply Chains

On top of the physical damage to assets, the downtime associated with the impacts of natural disasters puts $67 billion worth of trade at risk, every year.

According to a study from the Environmental Change Institute, nearly 90 per cent of the world’s major ports are exposed to climate hazards. This translates to global supply chains being at risk of costly delays, revenue losses and strained international relationships with trading partners.

Australia is no exception. In 2023 and early 2024, large parts of the country have experienced the impacts of droughts, bushfires, hailstorms and record-level flooding. Deloitte Access Economics Report 2023 states, the cost of natural disasters to Australia’s economy is approximately $38 billion per year – a figure which is forecast to increase to $73 billion per year, by 2060.

Additionally, data from the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) shows that the most expensive natural disasters, ranked by insured costs, are related to storms, flooding and hailstorms. These types of natural disasters have a lasting impacts on the affected communities, with nearly $24 billion spent on disaster recovery by the Federal Government, between 2005 and 2022.

The ICA data also indicates some parts of Australia will be more impacted than others. For example, two-thirds of the costs from natural disasters will be incurred in Queensland (QLD) and New South Wales (NSW), over the next 40 years, as these regions will be more exposed to warming oceans which enable tropical cyclones to move further South.

The Business Imperative

In March 2024, Cyclone Megan resulted in major damage to a port facility located approximately 50 kilometres from the Northern Territory (NT), near Arnhem Land. The commercial consequences of this event saw local port operations halted and disruption to Australia’s manganese supply chain.

Resilience is key to future-proofing port and maritime assets, and resilience does not start and end with climate adaptation measures in isolation.

Gavin says, “At BGER, we consider resilience and durability from a holistic perspective and throughout the asset lifecycle. We think about the impact on all stakeholders, across the entire value chain.”

Resilience is about integrating new assets into masterplans considering short and long-term horizons, improving policy settings to facilitate increased trade, responding to the evolving needs of emerging industries, protecting natural assets, durability and thoughtful design, efficient bulk materials handling, innovative energy solutions, sustainable water management, data-driven asset management and most importantly, responding to the needs and concerns of local communities.

Gavin adds, “Resilience is multi-dimensional, integrated and should drive positive outcomes for port-side and land-side parties. The intersect between ‘resilience’ and ‘value creation’ is more prevalent than ever before. Resilient port and maritime assets means greater ease with stakeholder consultation, reduced emissions, and increased bankability for projects.”

Pathways to Resilience

Across the globe, the Port of Rotterdam, which is located in one of the most flood-resistant cities in the world, is combining physical and digital infrastructure to enhance interactions between the port and the city.

In Asia, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore is collaborating with port operators to create a smart vessel traffic management system. Additionally, the new Tuas Port is designed with consideration for rising sea levels and incorporates reclamation using dredge material.

Shining the light down under, Ports Australia, established an Environment and Sustainability Group to bring coherence to the various mitigation efforts, conservation and biodiversity initiatives, and to assist with the broader ‘green’ port issues.

The Port of Melbourne was recognised by the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), achieving a 5-star rating in the Infrastructure Asset Assessment, and ranking first among Australian and global ports.

The Port of Newcastle (PON) developed a Sustainability Strategy which focuses on four key pillars: People, Planet, Partnerships, and Prosperity. These are reflected in PON’s vision to support the growing trade demands in the region and in their 2023 Climate Change Statement, in which transition and decarbonisation feature heavily.

NSW Ports have positioned Port Kembla well to contribute to Australia’s offshore wind industry, with new port capacity being developed to support offshore wind projects. With two offshore wind development zones now declared (Gippsland and Hunter) and three more proposed zones (Illawarra, Southern Ocean and Bass Strait), multiple ports will be needed to facilitate developments in these zones to meet Federal and State emission reductions targets. These ports must have berths for vessels, backed by a significant laydown area, capable of handling heavy and oversized loads associated with wind farm componentry.  Ports do not have this scale of surplus capacity simply sitting idle, which is why infrastructure developed to support these projects.

Similarly, the Port Authority of NSW is charging ahead with implementation of their Sustainability Plan, which includes a 75 per cent reduction target of their Scope 1 and 2 emissions, by the end of the decade. Some of the innovative initiatives being implemented by the Port Authority of NSW include bringing to market the world’s first for a dry-bulk precinct and a first in the Southern Hemisphere for a cruise terminal, installing and supplying Shore Power in the Bays Port precinct, and investing up to $60 million in the development of a landside electricity supply for cruise and bulk ships at the Bays Port precinct, which will be powered by renewable energy, to name a few.

Gavin says, “Consideration of the condition of existing aging infrastructure is essential, particularly when it comes to embracing renewable energy systems. One example is, many Australian ports lack the capacity to import large-scale wind turbines, which are needed for our energy transition. I’m excited about the projects that are being developed in NSW ports.”

Dedicated to solving complex challenges for BGER’s clients, Gavin leverages his rich and diverse capabilities in the planning, design and construction management of port facilities, marine infrastructure and coastal works.

With more than 20 years’ experience in the maritime industry, Gavin’s technical competencies lie in ocean and coastal engineering including numerical modelling, physical modelling, metocean criteria determination, full bridge ship handling simulation, mooring analysis, master planning and coastal/marine structures design. He brings a wealth of experience and passion to Newcastle and the Hunter region, and BGER’s East Coast business.

BGER is currently providing EPCM services for the Mid West Port Authority’s Geraldton Port Maximisation Project, which features innovative water recycling techniques to ensure optimal water quality for washing down and maintaining the new facility. This sustainable approach is a crucial aspect of the project, which aims to facilitate growth and increase trade at Geraldton Port, while also prioritising environmental responsibility.

Our talented teams have also played key roles in developing the mega-scale Roy Hill Iron Ore Mine and the associated bulk commodities port, as well as in helping Roy Hill to achieve their energy reduction targets. BGER completed the Concept Engineering Study, Feasibility Study, and Energy and Power Feasibility Study for the Stanley Point 3 Port Expansion.

BGER also designed mounting frames for three new shark monitoring receivers installed on the iconic Busselton Jetty in WA’s Southwest, which attracts more than 500,000 visitors every year. The receivers are solar-powered and allow diagnostics to be assessed remotely by government bodies to manage the local marine ecology. It also has a positive impact on the local community by supporting shark mitigation for events such as the annual Busselton Jetty Swim.

BGER’s team have also completed works for the PON and Port of Townsville, among others.

The critical role of ports in the global economy makes enhancing resilience a matter of strategic importance.

For further information about BGER’s ports and marine capabilities please contact Ben.Knowles@bge-resources.com (Discipline Lead, Ports & Marine) and/or call +61 8 6375 9100.

Sources: CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology, State of the Climate 2022 Report; Environmental Change Institute Data; Deloitte, Deloitte, Access Economics Report 2023; Insurance Council of Australia, Most Expensive Natural Disasters Data; and, Ports Australia, Port Authority of NSW, NSW Ports, Port of Melbourne, Port of Rotterdam and Port of Singapore Strategic Plans.

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