Namely, Asian ports are particularly crucial to the health of the global economy as they include nine of the world’s top 10 largest capacity trading locations. In fact, researchers now warn that low-lying Asian countries are expected to be the worst-affected by rising sea levels, and ports will be the first to feel some of the most dramatic effects.

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Wärtsilä says that the 2015 Paris Agreement has been important in helping world governments commit to lower emissions in an attempt to soften the impact of climate change.

Yet, even if all the commitments are met as planned, it won’t stop sea levels from rising over the next two centuries. 

Ivan Haigh, an associate professor of Coastal Oceanography at Southampton University explains that most of the effects of sea level rise are “locked-in” because the sea warms at different speeds, stressing that

Even if we were to go to negative emissions tomorrow, sea levels are still going to rise for hundreds if not for thousands of years.

This is for two reasons;

  1. only the surface of the ocean has been heated- and that heat takes a long time to travel down into the depths;
  2. once ice starts melting, it carries on melting even if temperature changes.

Haigh underlines that no matter what, “we are going to experience at least a meter of sea level rise. It’s just a matter of when: is it going to be this century or over the next 200 years?

What is more, elevating Asia’s ports could provide some level of shield from rising sea levels, but, according to a 2018 report by Asia Engage, this could be costly.

Analysts found that countries would have to spend up to EUR 45 billion to raise up 53 of the region’s largest ports. Namely, according to the report, in order to future-proof the port of Shanghai, the busiest port in the world, against rising storm surges and other climate effects, costs would be between EUR 340 million and EUR 550 million.

In regards to South Korea, the higher price of construction along with other factors like larger warehouse areas, means the Gwangyang port in the country’s South Jeolla province would have to pay between EUR 1.45 billion and EUR 3.25 billion in order to prepare for the expected large sea level rises.

Such adaption costs also represent a significant portion of the entire amount required to build new ports.

For instance, Wärtsilä notes that in Singapore, the construction of the fully-automated Tuas mega-port is still ongoing and is expected to be fully completed in 2040; the maritime sector adds around 7% a year to Singapore’s GDP growth, with 170,000 people currently working in the industry.

Asia Engage further estimated that the cost of altering the port to adapt to sea level rises to be EUR 1.1 billion, some 19% of the full price of building the giant 8.6km-long terminal.

Whatsoever, it is said that Singapore’s port could be shielded from some of the worst effects of climate change due to its government’s foresight in putting protective regulation in place.

Notably, Tuas is being built on land reclaimed from the sea; it was in 2011, when Singapore raised the minimum height requirements for reclaimed land from 3 metres to 4 metres above sea level.

What is more, a 2015 Stanford University paper, estimated that the expected costs to US ports of intervention to protect against sea level rise and found the price of sea wall and bulkhead construction to be between EUR 750,000 per km and EUR 2 million per km, while building dikes or levees to protect against one metre of sea level rise varied from EUR 1 million per km to EUR 4 million per km.

Yet, a 2019 Maritime Economics and Logistics paper called for main adaptation steps to “include storm defences, elevation to compensate for projected sea levels and even relocation.”

Jim Hall, Professor of Climate and Environmental Risk at Oxford University’s school of geography and the environment comes to add that it would be very surprising if a port operator decided to move somewhere else because of the effects of worsening sea level rise, adding that every port will have to adapt eventually.

Port operators will have to consider the very challenging cost-benefit analysis when determining how to revamp their infrastructure to deal with the accelerating effects of climate change.

Lastly, according to Wärtsilä

Given the reality of rising sea levels, not acting at all is no longer a viable choice.

In late 2019, it was reported that the Port of San Diego was preparing for the future sea level rise and has taken practical measures to mitigate this problem. Namely, at the location of a future hotel and convention center in Chula Vista, the Port trucked enough soil to raise the ground level by 14 feet.