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The Baltic Sea – A new pioneer in sustainable shipping? :: The Baltic Course

The Baltic Sea Region is perhaps more closely linked to shipping, the sea and maritime industries than any other region in the world. The cities and States around the Baltic Sea are also bound together by maritime trade routes, culture, governance networks and, inevitably, the waves of future.



As about 90% of its exports and 80% of its imports are carried by sea, Finland is a maritime nation. It is therefore vital for Finland, that our sea routes are dependable, functional, safe and sustainable.

Furthermore, about 70 % of our freight transportation moves through harbors in the Baltic and the North Sea, making the Baltic our main market, our lifeline.

We want to make sure that it remains stable, its waters healthy and its vessels in competent hands. These goals are clearly worded and at the forefront of our Maritime Transport Strategy, our Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, as well as the Programme of Prime Minister Antti Rinne’s Government.

When it comes to good environmental status and ambitious climate goals for Baltic shipping and the region’s maritime industries, we are not quite there yet. According to the most recent HELCOM State of the Baltic Sea report published in September 2018, our sea is not in a good state: eutrophication causes major stress, while plastic pollution and the effects of global climate bring about additional pressures.

In Baltic shipping, we need to better integrate national, regional and global environmental standards and climate goals to our key value chains, business ideas and modes of thinking. These standards and goals should not been seen as hindrances, but as success factors for Baltic maritime clusters.

Shipping as an industry still has great untapped potential to save fuel and therefore reduce carbon emissions: digitalization and open data. Today, container ships spend 25% of their time at berth. Reducing this through just-in-time arrival allows ships to sail slower and save fuel.

Real time slot information, smart vessels and connected information ecosystems enable just-in-time arrival – making digitalization and open data the new green heroes of shipping. In the future, we need also more IT-savvy seafarers – people who know both practical navigation and the world or algorithms.

There are of course numerous challenges still ahead for digitalisation and open data in shipping. These include reluctance to share market sensitive information in some segments, deeply embedded contractual frameworks, concerns related to cybersecurity and the lack of standards. But shouldn’t we at least try to tackle these in the Baltic Sea first?

Think of the opportunities: the Baltic Sea Region as a pioneer for digitalisation, scaling up global solutions for emerging markets. Finland will strive towards this vision and hopes that our Baltic neighbors can share the vision in both the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region as well as the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan.

Shipping accounts for approximately 2.5% of global GHG emissions, but without any reduction measures the emissions in the sector are expected to grow by 50–250% in the coming decades. Growth in global trade will increase maritime transport considerably.

This is why we must adopt early measures with significant GHG emissions reduction potential before 2023 in accordance with the goals set in the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Initial Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships.

Here in the Baltic Sea, we have already taken the first steps on our way to low and eventually zero carbon future in shipping. Many vessels operate with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), which means complete removal of SOX and particles, reduction of NOX emissions of up to 85%, and CO2 emissions by at least 20% compared to traditional fuels. We also have several LNG terminals around the Baltic Sea, including the Nordic regions’ largest on in Tornio in the Bothnian Bay.

Moving forward, biogas, hydrogen and battery technology are all viable options as main sources of power in shipping. Especially in short voyages with ferries, electricity has great potential. Finland supports speedy introduction of alternative fuels in shipping.

There is also a need to re-explore the merits and development potential of shore power in our ports. Shore power means hooking up to an onshore power supply, i.e. connecting to the local electricity grid, when at berth, and it is often a greener and quieter alternative to onboard power generation.

Regardless of the measures we ultimately choose to combat climate change, the Baltic Sea Region has been projected to warm up by 2–4 degrees by the end of the century because of global warming. This will lead to changing ice conditions and affect shipping, fishing, as well as distribution of marine life in the Baltic Sea. Are we prepared to these changes?

Baltic Sea has also all the potential to become a testbed for sustainable Arctic shipping. The ice-covered waters in the Gulf of Bothnia may be used to test and develop new services that will enable safe navigation and protection of the marine environment in Arctic shipping routes. These can include, among other things, weather and ice services, training, oil spill prevention and response in ice conditions, icebreaking innovations, as well as robust intelligent navigational aids.

According to the Programme of Prime Minister Antti Rinne’s Government, Finland’s target is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. The programme also states, that Finland will continue to play an active role in the EU-level and international organisations in promoting measures to reduce maritime emissions. In maritime transport, this entails not only fulfilling our obligations in the IMO and the EU, but also coming up with new solutions to reduce carbon emissions in all logistics chains in the short term.


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