A new analysis reveals that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, ports throughout the world would incur billions of dollars in damages. Extreme weather, flooding, and rising sea levels would all harm important maritime infrastructure, causing global supply lines to be disrupted.
Storm and climate-related port interruptions could cost the charity Environmental Defense Fund almost $10 billion per year by 2050, according to the analysis (EDF). Without action on climate change, such expenses might rise to more than $25 billion per year by 2100. For context, the last sum is greater than the total operational profits of the global container transport sector in a single year.
Many ports are already overburdened as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, which exposed flaws in global supply systems. The report’s authors warn that ports and the shipping industry have a lot of work ahead of them to reduce their own planet-warming emissions and prevent the worst-case scenarios depicted in the report.
« Just as the COVID-19 outbreak drove our ports and the global supply chain into crisis mode, » said Marie Hubatova, senior manager of EDF’s global transport division, in a press statement. « In the face of climatic breakdown, the maritime sector, on the other hand, has an early warning bell and an opportunity to act. »
Severe storms are one of the most serious hazards identified in the research, particularly when stormwaters wreak havoc on infrastructure and vessels. The majority of the losses anticipated in the research are due to the damage they do to ports. The evidence is mounting that tropical cyclones are becoming more intense as the world warms. More rain and even worse hurricane-force winds are expected as a result. Then there’s rising sea levels: as sea levels rise, so do devastating storms and storm surges.
Should storms wreak havoc on ports, these adjustments will come at a higher cost. Hurricane Katrina, which hit the United States’ Gulf Coast in 2005, cost US ports over $2.2 billion. According to the latest analysis, the economic toll from Katrina might have been 5.5 times higher at the port in Mobile, Alabama, if sea levels and storm surges were as high at the time as some models indicate they would be by 2100.
Following a hurricane, there are persistent recovery expenditures as well as significant shipping delays. The paper also highlights the expenditures that ports face as a result of climate change adaptation. Ports may need to raise infrastructure, construct protective barriers such as sea walls, or even relocate to higher ground. There are also costs associated with ships needing to chart new courses in order to escape inclement weather. According to the analysis, weather, which is becoming more intense as the world heats, was responsible for almost one in every five vessels lost globally between 2015 and 2019.
Fortunately, the way forward is not predetermined. The analysis is predicated on the worst-case scenario for the climate catastrophe, which is unchecked greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris agreement commits states to almost eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century, despite the fact that the world is not now on course to meet that target.
Some policymakers, on the other hand, are considering how to prepare. In the United States, a bipartisan infrastructure plan passed last year included $17 billion in repairs to ports and waterways, primarily to relieve congestion. A White House fact sheet states that ports « have enormous hurdles updating infrastructure and preserving key facilities under threat from sea level rise and other climate challenges. »
These activities will necessitate collaboration with the commercial sector. « From a tactical standpoint, how do you connect with corporations to assist them understand their own asset risk? » Sreenivas Ramaswamy, senior policy adviser at the US Department of Commerce, stated yesterday during a panel discussion about fortifying US supply chains, particularly ports, against climate change and other hazards. Facilitating greater collaboration between government and industry, he added, is a critical foundation for supply chain resiliency.
Some retail and shipping behemoths have made the switch to less polluting boats. This is critical because maritime shipping accounts for approximately 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. After all, the great bulk of products exchanged are delivered by ship. According to the paper, the shipping industry should « act now or pay later. »