Ports and climate change: nearly nine in ten major ports are vulnerable to climate hazards

A new study from the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute (ECI) has found that nearly nine out of ten major ports globally are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The research indicates that ports, located in coastal and riverine areas, are at risk from rising sea levels and more severe storms. This could cause physical damage to port infrastructure and disrupt operations.  This can lead to disruptions in shipping and trade, as well as economic losses for businesses and communities that depend on ports. Additionally, ports and coastal areas are also at risk from the impacts of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and typhoons.

The study is the first to quantify the climate risks faced by ports on a global scale. It found that 86% of all ports are exposed to more than three types of climatic and geophysical hazards, with extreme conditions at sea expected to cause operational disruptions to around 40% of ports worldwide.

The largest climate risks were found to be faced by large ports in Asia, the Gulf of Mexico and Western Europe, with the highest impacts likely to be felt in middle-income countries.

Ports that are most at risk from the impacts of climate change are typically those located in low-lying coastal areas, or those with inadequate coastal protection measures in place. Some examples of ports that are considered to be particularly vulnerable include:

the port of Miami, Florida, USA: Located in a low-lying area, the port is at risk from sea level rise and increased storm surge, which could cause flooding and damage to infrastructure. Other ports have similar problems related to the sea level: the port of Mumbai, India, the port of Shanghai, China, the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands (one of the busiest in the world), the port of Lagos, Nigeria.

And in the mediterranean area?

The Mediterranean area is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to its location and geography. Some ports that are considered to be particularly vulnerable in this region include:

Alexandria, Egypt; Thessaloniki, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey, Naples and Venice, Italy; Marseille, France: these ports are located in low-lying areas and they are at risk from sea level rise, which could cause flooding and damage to infrastructure.

These are just a few examples, and there are many other ports in the Mediterranean region that are also at risk. As the impacts of climate change continue to worsen, it is important for ports in the region to take steps to adapt and protect their infrastructure and communities.

The total cost of climate risk to ports is estimated to be $7.6 billion per year, with trade worth $67 billion at risk every year due to port downtime.

Major ports in upper-middle-income countries will need to invest heavily to manage risk, which could become very expensive. On the other hand, infrastructure upgrades are needed to protect small ports in low-income countries from dangerous impacts and frequent disruptions that could have a systemic impact on the economies they serve. At these ports, the impact of climate change on economic activity can be mitigated by improving infrastructure, making them more resilient and ensuring year-round operations.

What can concretely be done to prevent the risk?

There are several measures that can be taken to prevent or reduce the risk of damage to ports and coastal areas from the impacts of climate change. Some of these include:

  • Building sea walls and other coastal protection structures: these can help to reduce the risk of flooding and coastal erosion.
  • Elevating infrastructure: this can help to protect against flooding and storm surge.
  • Improving drainage systems: this can help to reduce the risk of flooding.
  • Developing early warning systems and emergency response plans: this can help to reduce the risk of damage and loss of life during extreme weather events.
  • Implementing land-use planning and zoning policies: this can help to reduce the risk of coastal development in areas that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
  • Implementing green infrastructure solutions, such as mangroves, wetlands, dunes and beaches, which can act as natural barriers against storm surge and sea level rise.
  • Investing in research and development of new technologies and materials that can make coastal structures more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
  • Encouraging sustainable practices and reducing carbon emissions to slow down the rate of climate change.

It’s worth nothing that the effectiveness of these measures will depend on the severity of the impacts and the ability to implement them in a timely manner. Also, the combination of different measures will provide the best results.

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