A study published in Nature by IHCantabria, says that hundreds of ports could lose their operations due to the effect of climate change

by | 10 Nov, 2020 | Marine Climate and Climate Change, General News | 0 comments

Without mitigation and adaptation, a great number of ports distributed throughout the world will lose their operability due to the effects of climate change by the end of the century, according to a study carried out by IHCantabria researchers in collaboration with the United States National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank. Published in the high impact scientific journal “Nature Climate Change”, the work analyses, in an emissions scenario such as the present one, how the changes in temperature, precipitation, winds, waves, sea level, frequency and intensity of hurricanes can affect port operations in 2,013 infrastructures in 172 countries.


“90% of them are going to increase their risk level, unless they take measures in the next few years and depending on how emissions will be from here to the future”, says Íñigo Losada, professor at the University of Cantabria and scientific director of IHCantabria. In Spain, 42 ports have been analysed, of which three will suffer the highest levels of risk in the absence of adaptation: the Cantabrian ports of Bermeo and Bilbao, and also Ceuta, followed by those located in the Mediterranean. A total of 34 are at medium risk.

At global level, the most affected ports would be six located on the Pacific islands, in the Caribbean Sea and in the Indian Ocean, where “the effect of tropical cyclones and typhoons will be increasingly intense and frequent”, points out Losada, which would lead them to run an extremely high risk of losing their operations by 2100. The ports of the African Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula (Persian Gulf and Red Sea) will be at very high risk. The countries with the greatest number of infrastructures at these levels of risk are Indonesia (25), the Philippines (24), the United States (21), Egypt (18) and Japan (15).

Vulnerability and impacts

The study integrates the changes in climate with the characteristics of each of the ports and their vulnerability, in order to evaluate the impacts and the risk of a reduction in their operating hours by the end of this century with relation to those they have at present, with the consequent economic losses. “In many developing countries, the lack of technical and financial capacity to carry out regular maintenance and repairs after the impact of extreme events, makes ports extremely vulnerable”, explains Íñigo Losada.

This reduction in operability can be explained by two main factors: the increase in flooding of docks, loading and unloading areas and the exceeding of protection works due to the rise in sea level, on the one hand; and the increase in temperature above 40oC, on the other.

The study, entitled “Climate change risk to global port operations”, provides valuable information on port reliability, economics and other environmental and social considerations, useful for investors, logistics companies, operators and port planners alike. Port equipment is often designed for periods of 20 to 50 years, “which commits them to face several decades of climate change”, explains Íñigo Losada. Moreover, the information generated is useful for assessing the risks on a regional scale (Latin America and the Caribbean or South-East Asia and the Pacific, for example) or in countries with long coasts and many ports.

Resilience and adaptation

The work published now “emerges from a much broader collaboration between IHCantabria and IFC, which aims to assess the climate change resilience of their infrastructure investments worldwide,” says Losada. This capacity to adapt to the climate, by investing in maintenance and establishing adaptation plans, “is essential for the global and regional economy, especially in ports, through which 80% of world merchandise moves and which are fundamental for the fishing sector and nautical tourism”, adds the researcher.

This is why in Spain the autonomous communities are drawing up adaptation plans for fishing and sports ports, complying with the obligation established by the Coastal Law and contributing to the Spanish Coastal Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.