Ports survey shows importance of spending on climate-resistant infrastructure

Ports survey shows importance of spending on climate-resistant infrastructure

Ports covering every major ocean as well as inland ports and waterways have confirmed the increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events and the serious impact these have had on infrastructure and operations.

The survey has been organised by the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) on behalf of the partners of the Navigating a Changing Climate (NaCC) initiative. It has been developed to gather aggregate, high-level data on costs and consequences of extreme weather events. These cover not only damage, clean-up and additional maintenance costs, but also the consequences of closures, downtime and delays. The survey also considers wider issues, for example the role of warning systems and contingency plans.

Jan Brooke, lead coordinator of the survey, commented : “Last year, the NaCC partners identified that a lack of data on the consequences of inaction is a potential barrier to justifying investment in improving climate-resilience. So we devised this survey in order to gauge just how much impact extreme weather and oceanographic events are having on ports around the world.”

Early responses from over 50 ports of varying sizes located around the world already confirm the impact of the increase in extreme events on port infrastructure and operational downtime. Nearly two thirds so far have reported downtimes of between one six-hour shift and 72 hours. More than half of respondents consider the effects of these extreme-weather induced closures and downtime to be ‘significant’ or ‘critical’. In addition, more than one in five respondents reported clean-up, damage repair and extra maintenance costs of between $100,000 and $10m.

“The frequency increase in extreme weather events in the past four decades is irrevocable,” commented Dr Antonis Michail, technical director of the IAPH World Ports Sustainability Program.

The survey remains open for all ports until December 20.

In a note to clients this week, insurer TT Club wrote: “Experience shows that unfamiliar and erratic weather conditions are becoming more prevalent; as a result, it is good practice for all ports to establish appropriate emergency plans.”

How extreme weather is changing shipping was something also discussed by Jeremy Nixon, the boss of Japanese containerline Ocean Network Express (ONE), in a high profile speech at TOC Asia in Singapore earlier this year.

Growing fierce weather patterns are causing delays for ports and ships around the world, principally in Asia where the number and ferocity of typhoons are growing, Nixon said.

“Global warming is happening,” Nixon said, which has led to more adverse weather and more cyclones and typhoons rumbling through key shipping lanes. Last year there were 17 major typhoons in Asia, up from 12 the year before.

“These typhoons track through major shipping lanes in Asia and impact ports too,” Nixon said.

Typhoons in recent years have tracked further north, hitting Shanghai. The world’s largest container port has seen more days closed because of bad weather than before. In August last year, for instance, the port was closed for eight days, compared to just one day in 2017.

“When running at low utilisation ports could catch up relatively quickly but because ports are working at much higher utilisation levels especially in China the ability to recover is harder,” Nixon said.

The heavy weather is not just disrupting supply chains in Asia. Nixon said severe weather had hampered rail operations in North America and Europe had also suffered.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

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