Ports are vital nodes for global trade and maritime transport that support and connect our economies. However, given their locations along low-lying coastal areas and rivers, many are exposed to the impacts of a range of climate-related hazards such as floods and tropical cyclones.
Damages to infrastructure and operational disruption resulting from climate-related hazards have been observed globally. In 2008, hurricane Ike caused an estimated US$2.4 billion worth of damages to port infrastructure in Texas. Likewise, record water levels due to rainfall in 2019 rendered large parts of the Mississippi River in the United States unnavigable, resulting in at least US$6.2 billion in damages to vessels and shore-side infrastructure.
These impacts of climate change are particularly concerning if left inadequately addressed. A recent study by the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University finds that:
US$63.1 billion of trade is at risk every year due to port disruptions from multiple hazards.
86% of ports globally are exposed to more than three hazards.
Under a high-emissions scenario (RCP 8.5), the value of physical damages to port infrastructure and operational disruptions combined could increase by 52% by 2050, primarily driven by tropical cyclone risk.
Port Exposure to Climate Hazards
Intensel conducted an analysis on the top 50 ports in Asia by freight volume to understand the potential severity and extent of a range of climate risks on ports. These hazards include:
Findings under a high emissions scenario (SSP 5-8.5) include:
The port of Mumbai in India has the highest overall climate hazard score (score of 62 out of 100);
Climate hazard scores are projected to increase from 2030 to 2050 across all ports;
Moderate to high hazard scores for typhoon and storm surge can be observed for specific ports.
Individual climate hazard scores (from 0 – lowest risk to 100 – highest risk) for ten ports with the highest combined climate hazard scores, by 2030 (top) and 2050 (bottom).
Climate hazard scores are projected to increase from 2030 to 2050 across all ports. Moderate to high hazard scores for typhoon and storm surge can be observed for specific ports.
Increase in severity of climate-related hazards over time
Across the 50 ports analysed, port authorities, operators and asset owners should anticipate potential damages and disruption to ports brought by rainfall floods, typhoons and extreme heat conditions of moderate severity, with an increase in their severities over time.
Our estimation shows that losses owing to physical damages from climate-related hazards may increase approximately 27% by 2030 and 39% by 2050 on average, if no mitigation measures are taken.
Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies
Our analysis also shows that exposure to climate hazards is non-uniform and varies depending on geography. To address specific risks, attention is required to mitigate potential hazards such as storm surges and typhoons that impact specific ports. For example:
Ports such as Busan and Ho Chi Minh City would need to ensure adequate mitigation measures to address storm surge risks;
Ports in Taiwan would require targeted measures to address their exposure to typhoons.
Beyond acute hazards, chronic hazards such as exposure to extreme heat and humidity can also result in negative impacts to worker health, productivity and stress to port equipment. Coastal land subsidence and sea-level rise may further increase flood risk over time. An in-depth analysis of these impacts is recommended, particularly for ports that are projected to encounter high maximum daily temperatures or those located in areas experiencing rapid subsidence.
Hazards affecting a single port facility or points along shipping routes may result in downstream or cascading effects at connecting ports or global supply chains in the form of downtime, if not assessed and adequately mitigated.
For port authorities, operators, and asset owners, taking action to ensure supply chain resilience requires:
- Specific, asset-level exposure and vulnerability assessments to identify vulnerable port infrastructure or "hazard points" along shipping routes;
- Targeted management or adaptation strategies for port operations over time.
By implementing proactive measures, the global community can enhance the resilience of port infrastructure, safeguard trade, and protect against the escalating risks posed by climate change.
Verschuur, J., Koks, E.E., Li, S. et al. Multi-hazard risk to global port infrastructure and resulting trade and logistics losses. Commun Earth Environ 4, 5 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-022-00656-7
UNCTAD (2021). Climate change impacts on seaports: A growing threat to sustainable trade and development. https://unctad.org/news/climate-change-impacts-seaports-growing-threat-sustainable-trade-and-development