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With Sea-Level Rise, A Changing Forecast for Port Logistics

Sarah Peyok headshotWords by Sarah Peyok
Energy & Environment
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For port authorities and logistics companies alike, sea-level rise and infrastructure concerns are coming into view faster than ever before. With extreme weather events happening more frequently and sea levels estimated to rise as much as four feet by 2100, what used to be cemented into a master plan that could span many decades is now under water.

Ports need to be prepared for the potentially damaging effects of climate change, but these types of renovations cost millions of dollars. Port authorities, like many other governmental organizations, are expected to make tough financial decisions regarding infrastructure renovations and construction.

The United States and China are the world’s largest importers, according to data from the World Trade Organization. China is also host to seven of the world’s largest ports by cargo volume. With more than 80 percent of the world’s freight moving by ship, being future-ready isn’t a cost to overlook.

Will the world’s ports be ready for the impending effects of climate change?

In the U.S. alone, according to the American Association of Port Authorities, seaport cargo activity accounts for 26 percent of the country’s GDP. Yet, improving port facility infrastructure for environmental impacts is the smallest line item on the agenda.

China is even less prepared. As industry has grown at record rates, floods, tidal surges and sinking land only intensify the need for bracing ports against changing landscapes.

Take for instance the Port of Shenzhen, which is a collective of ports along parts of the coastline of Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China. These ports form one of the busiest and fastest growing container ports in the world.

Mangroves once protected the area from rising waters. These mangrove forests provide a crucial role in shielding coastal areas from sea-level rise caused by climate change. Since 1979, 70 percent of the mangroves along the Shenzhen coast have been paved over. Even with the Chinese government’s proposed landfill expansion, the soil, asphalt and concrete supporting this area remain vulnerable to rising waters and erosion.

With so many of the world’s seaports at risk of threat from rising seawater, what can be done?

Preparing ports for environmental impacts

According to a recently published Wall Street Journal article, “ports whose berths are at least 14 feet above sea level at high tide should be safe from flooding for the near future.”

Other infrastructure to take into consideration includes a port’s electric power stations and data servers. Keeping these stations and equipment elevated and as far away from the water’s edge as possible helps to ensure the longevity of a port’s critical operating systems.

Restoring natural habitats, such as mangroves—which appear to be resilient to sea-level rise and likely able to sustain climatic change, will also help to safeguard the land supporting a port.

The Port of Virginia is one example where leadership is beginning renovations that take into consideration the problems rising water levels and intensifying storm surges may present. While the Port of Virginia 2065 Master Plan carefully words such efforts (see page 8), rising waters are a “clear and present problem” as stated by John Reinhart, the port authority’s chief executive.

Moving forward, port authorities around the world are beginning to include climate change effects into their master plans. It’s a shift; and, while the efforts may seem minimal now, time will tell how urgently funds will shift into supporting the land and coastlines supporting these major economic hubs.

Image credit: Axel Ahoi/Unsplash

Sarah Peyok headshotSarah Peyok

Based in the Midwest just north of Detroit, Sarah is passionate about sustainability, storytelling and bringing to light sustainability principles that can be threaded into business strategies and communications. Formerly an editor for CSRwire and freelance writer for many organizations forwarding the principles of corporate social responsibility and circularity, she is excited to be a contributor to TriplePundit. Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Read more stories by Sarah Peyok