Global trade and economies exposed to billion-dollar climate risk for ports

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Agriculture & Climate Change, UK (Commonwealth Union) – Climate change has been much in focus in recent years with mixed views on how to tackle the situation from various scientists. In spite these variations in opinions even the most prominent environmentalists have cautioned the need to tread carefully when tackling climate change taking into consideration the current economic crisis that has taken a toll on both farmers and the public.

Much attention has been focused on growing more food producing plants in available land and private gardens that is both economically beneficial and also contributes in lowering the emerging food crisis.

New research by the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute (ECI) has found that almost 9 in 10 major ports across the world are impacted by detrimental climate hazards, leading to spiraling economic consequences on world trade

Ports play a significant role to economies as they handle the most of the international trade, as well as being a vital hub for industry and transport, and large employment opportunity providers. However, by their very nature, ports are situated in hazard-prone locations on the coast lines and near rivers, which face storms and floods and will be impacted by sea level rise and more severe storms due to climate change.

This may result in physical damages to port infrastructure, and result in destruction of port operations, having extensive consequences. In measuring of how large the problems may be, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 shut down 3 ports in America that handle almost half the nation’s agricultural exports. The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami also caused destruction to maritime assets valued at $12 billion. Nevertheless, the climate risks that may impact ports have not been quantified on a worldwide scale, until now.

The study which was published in Communications Earth and Environment, had researchers from the ECI give a detailed picture of climate risks for 1,340 of the most significant ports across the world. It adds together a new geospatial database having port infrastructure assets with the greatest details available with information on natural hazards, such as earthquakes, cyclones and flooding, together with localized information on “marine extremes” that include wind speeds, waves, temperature, and overtopping.

Research lead Jasper Verschuur, says “We found 86% of all ports are exposed to more than three types of climatic and geophysical hazards. Extreme conditions at sea (e.g. storms) are expected to cause operational disruptions to around 40% of ports globally. What’s more, ports are exposed to other hazards including river flooding and earthquakes so port designers and operators have to take multiple hazards into consideration. That’s not always happening at the moment. For instance, the foundations of quay walls need careful consideration when exposed to earthquakes, the orientation and design of breakwaters when exposed to extreme waves and surges, and the drainage system when exposed to fluvial and pluvial flooding. If that doesn’t happen, we could see major disruptions to global trade and supply chains.”

The climate risk adds up to $7.6 billion per year, where a majority is linked to tropical cyclones and river flooding of ports. This figure is over half as large as prior estimates of the climate risk of road and rail infrastructure on an international scale, giving a picture, that even though ports only encompass relatively small areas, the high value and density of assets may lead to the climate risk on a national and international scale.

“Luckily, initiatives are ongoing to upgrade outdated and inefficient port infrastructure at many ports. However, these efforts fall short given the expected climate change challenges ports will face over the next few decades. Our paper allows organisations to prioritise global investments to adapt ports, as well as help identify the most suitable interventions,” said Jasper Verschuur.

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