Climate Risks

Climate change impacts on seaports

11 months ago
4 min

The climate crisis is one of the biggest threats in the coming years, especially for the port sector. Globally, the total climate risk to ports has been estimated at US$7.5 billion per year.

In addition to this estimate, when analyzing the weather hazards faced by 1,340 of the world's major ports, the researchers also showed that 86% of these ports are exposed to more than three weather hazards.

These numbers highlight the urgent need for the port industry to understand and manage the risks associated with climate change. In this article, we will answer some key questions about the impacts of climate change on ports:

1. How does climate change already affect ports?

2. How big is the damage to the port sector?

3. Why are ports so vulnerable to weather extremes?

4. What to expect from now on?

5. How can the port sector build climate resilience?

1. How climate change is already affecting ports around the globe?

The port sector faces increasingly complex challenges arising from climate change. A study conducted by UNCTAD in 2017 with 44 port sector entities around the world showed that 72% of ports or terminals suffered some impact from extreme weather events.

Most of the impacts raised were in operations, causing delays (60%), disruptions in services (76%) , along with impacts on the physical structures of ports (45%). Projections indicate that climate extremes will increase, with more severe effects in a scenario of more intense global warming.

An analysis of disruptions related to weather events and physical damage in the world's 1320 most important ports, published in the journal Nature in 2023. At least 66 ports had more than 5 days of disruptions per year due to weather conditions and all were at risk of interruptions of at least 1.4 days a year.

In Brazil the situation is no different.

According to the report Impacts and risks of climate change in ports by ANTAQ, the Brazilian port sector is already feeling the effect of climate change. Among the analyzed risks, windstorms are the most critical, with 33% of the ports already in a state of high risk. By 2050, 76% will reach a very high risk level.

2. How big is the damage?

Ports play a vital role in global trade, accounting for 80% of the world's freight transport and around 50% of the value of global trade. Therefore, interruptions in port operations can have a prolonged impact on the entire logistics chain, generating significant consequences for trade and the global economy.

Due to the global importance of ports, interruptions and downtimes put US$95.8 billion in industrial production and US$26.3 billion in consumption at risk, globally.

Analyzes of hurricane damage at U.S. ports show a wide range of estimates, ranging from $46 million for Hurricane Florence in 2018 to about $2.2 billion for Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The combination of projected sea level rise and more severe storms by 2050 has the potential to bring billions of dollars in additional storm-related port damage and disruption costs each year, says the report on the costs of climate inaction for ports and shipping by RTI International 2022.

3. Why ports are vulnerable to climate change?

An analysis of storm-related outages at 74 ports in 12 countries found that each additional meter in mean water level height or each 36 km/h increase in wind speed is associated with an average 2-day increase in storm duration. interruptions in port operations.

Due to their strategic location in coastal areas and lowlands, ports are exposed to the impact of rising sea levels, storms, waves, winds and floods. These severe weather conditions pose a significant challenge to port operations and infrastructure.

In addition to their sensitive location, ports are assets with a long useful life. And most were designed without taking into account the increase in the frequency and severity of weather events seen in the 21st century.

The main impacts of the increased severity and frequency of extreme weather events in ports are:

a. Flooding of port areas and their retro areas, industrial, highways and railways.

b. Cancellations and delays of port services due to storms, heavy rain, windstorms and wave propagation.

c. Damage to infrastructure, such as the impacts caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 on US ports and the cyclone that hit southern Brazil in 2020.

d. Interruption of port navigation.

4. What to expect going forward?

Climate change threatens port infrastructure and operations, whether through rising sea levels or increased storm and flood activity.

The warmer the atmosphere becomes, the more moisture it can hold. Therefore, rain-related weather events will be more frequent and severe. Also the higher temperatures in the ocean increase evaporation, this generates even more "fuel" for the formation of storms.

In Brazil, although hurricanes (which are tropical cyclones) do not occur, with climate changes, it is expected that extratropical cyclones become more destructive, by exceeding more frequently the historical limits of wind intensity and area of influence.

According to Act Now or Pay Later: The Costs of Climate Inaction for Ports and Shipping, without ambitious action to reduce emissions, the impacts of climate change could cost the shipping industry up to $25 billion every year by the end of the century.

5. How to create climate resilience in the port sector?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to adapting and planning for port resilience in the face of climate change. But reducing climate risk involves investing in infrastructure, emergency plans, monitoring climate conditions, governance and management to minimize potential impacts and losses.

The increasing unpredictability of weather and climate events hampers the ability of decision makers in industries to anticipate, plan and invest. Therefore, climate intelligence and risk management solutions that allow the identification of impacts and risks in advance, as well as the diagnosis of assets and operations that will be harmed, are extremely important for proactive and efficient decision-making.

We continue with this theme in the article on [How to adapt ports to climate change].

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Mateus LimaCEO
Born in Salvador, my connection with the sea has been intense since childhood. I helped establish i4sea with the aim of better-predicting wave conditions on my favorite beaches until I encountered climate change and realized that our purpose is to adapt people and businesses to this challenge.
Born in Salvador, my connection with the sea has been intense since childhood. I helped establish i4sea with the aim of better-predicting wave conditions on my favorite beaches until I encountered climate change and realized that our purpose is to adapt people and businesses to this challenge.

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