Researchers from Oxford University published a study on the risk to global port infrastructure due to extreme weather, finding that Port of Houston faces the greatest danger.
he climate risk totals $7.6 billion per year, most of which is attributed to tropical cyclones and river flooding of ports. This number is more than half as large as a previous estimate of the climate risk of road and rail infrastructure on a global scale, illustrating that, although ports only encompass relatively small areas, the high value and density of assets can contribute to the climate risk on a national and global scale.
On top of the physical damages, port downtime associated with these natural hazards puts trade worth $67 billion at-risk every year, which could result in costly delays, revenue losses, and impacts to the wider economy.
In addition, 63.1 USD bn of trade is at-risk every year, with trade risk as a fraction of total trade being particularly high in Small Island Developing States.
Port resilience is determined by various critical factors, such as engineering standards, operational thresholds, recovery duration, that vary widely across ports, requiring tailored solutions to improve port resilience
Large ports in upper middle and high-income countries need to make sizeable investments to manage their risk in light of increasing climate change, which could become prohibitively expensive.
On the other hand, infrastructure upgrades are needed to protect small ports in low-income countries from hazard impacts and frequent disruptions, which can have systemic impacts to economies they serve.
At these ports, the impacts of climate change on economic activity can be reduced by improvements to infrastructure to make them more disaster-resilient and ensure year-round operations.
Top 5 ports most at risk
The ports of Houston, Shanghai, Port Elizabeth (South Africa), Lazaro Cardenas (Mexico) and Rouen (France) are found to be the top 5 at-risk ports.
The port of Houston faces the largest risk from a combination of cyclone wind, pluvial flooding and fluvial flooding, whereas, for the port of Shanghai, cyclone wind is by far the most important hazard.
Fluvial flooding is the dominant hazard for the ports of Rouen and Lazaro Cardenas, while the exceedance of operational thresholds, in particular from extreme wave heights, contributes most to the port-specific risk for Port Elizabeth.
Around half the ports globally face risk larger than 1 USD m per year, with 160 ports facing moderately high risk and 21 ports facing very high risk.
Most of the top 50 ports are very large ports in terms of estimated freight flows, therefore having large port areas exposed
Most ports are exposed to damages and disruptions from a multitude of extremes and natural hazards. 40.1% of 1340 ports are exposed to extreme maritime conditions that surpass the operational thresholds.
The vast majority of ports (94.8%) are exposed to more than one natural hazard, with 50% of ports being exposed to 4 or 5 natural hazards.
Fluvial and pluvial flood hazards are most prevalent, with 80.4% and 84.3% of ports, respectively, being exposed to these natural hazards.
We found 86% of all ports are exposed to more than three types of climatic and geophysical hazards. Extreme conditions at sea (e.g. storms) are expected to cause operational disruptions to around 40% of ports globally. What’s more, ports are exposed to other hazards including river flooding and earthquakes so port designers and operators have to take multiple hazards into consideration
explained research lead Jasper Verschuur.
Some of the hotspots of multi-hazard exposure are in Japan, the West Coast of the United States and Middle America, New Zealand, Taiwan and parts of mainland China.
Ports in South America, parts of Northern, Western and Eastern Africa, and Northern and Eastern Europe are only exposed to two or fewer hazards.
Hence, the vast majority of ports need to consider multiple hazards in the design and operations of infrastructure.
For instance, the foundations of quay walls need careful consideration when exposed to earthquakes, the orientation and design of breakwaters when exposed to extreme waves and surges, and the drainage system when exposed to fluvial and pluvial flooding
the report explained.