Climate Change and Impacts to Shipping

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report yesterday that says the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate. The report also concludes that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.

2014.04.03 - Climate Change and Impacts to Shipping

Specifically for Shipping the impacts of inland navigation vary widely due to projected rise or fall in water levels. Overall, the effects on inland navigation are projected to be negative, and are region-specific.

Increased frequency of flood periods will stop ship traffic on the Rhine more often; longer periods of low flow will also increase the average annual number of days during which inland navigation is hampered or stagnates due to limited load carrying capacity of the river; channel improvements can only partly alleviate these problems. Economic impact could be substantial given the value of navigation on the Rhine.

Virtually all scenarios of future climate change project reduced Great Lakes water levels and connecting channel flows, mainly because of increased evaporation resulting from higher temperatures. The potential economic impact may result in reductions in vessel cargo capacities and increases in shipping costs. The lower water levels predicted as a result of a doubling of the atmospheric carbon dioxide could increase annual transportation costs by 29%, while more moderate climate change could result in a 13 percent increase in annual shipping costs. The impacts vary across commodities and routes.

Warming leads to increased ice-free navigation and longer shipping season, but also to lower water levels from reduced runoff. In cold regions, increased days of ice-free navigation and a longer shipping season could impact shipping and reduce transportation costs, although movement in ice waters as the Canada Arctic sea more become more difficult.

Ports will be affected by climate changes including higher temperatures, sea level rise, increasingly severe storms, and increased precipitation. However, (the need to prioritize) adaptation of ports has been overshadowed by a focus on potential impacts. Training of port personnel is needed to begin the adaptation process. Over $3 trillion in port infrastructure assets in 136 of the world’s largest port cities are vulnerable to weather events.

Increased storminess in certain routes may raise cost of shipping through additional safety measures or longer routes that are less storm-prone. Transport costs would increase or new routes sought if storms disrupt supply chains by destroying port infrastructure connecting road or rail. Increased storminess may also affect passage through lock systems. Increased storminess may increase maintenance costs for ships and ports and result in more frequent weather-related delays.

For more information see the IPCC Report “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability

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