Chinese Port Organisations on Adaptation
By Chien Tat Low 26 March, 2021
Ports are key economic drivers but are at risk from rising sea levels. Are Chinese ports taking action? CWR's Low takes a look
For most countries in Asia Pacific, ports represent a doorway to the global economy and are essential to trade and their economic growth. During the COVID pandemic, marine trade has slowed due to significant disruptions but also container costs have sky rocketed due to shortages.
Yet, the port sector is facing another mega challenge ahead – coastal threats from climate change, including sea level rise (SLR) and storm surges.
Asia’s busiest ports most hard hit by rising seas
Indeed, studies have shown that low-lying Asian countries are expected to be hit hardest by rising seas. As a result, their ports are particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding. CWR’s 5-report series “CWR Survival Guide to Avoiding Atlantis” found that 20 of the total 23 ports from the 20 APAC cities analysed will be underwater at 3m of SLR as soon as 2100. If we continue on our current climate path of 3°C-5°C, all 23 ports of the 20 APAC cities will be permanently submerged, without serious adaptation measures.
20 APAC ports will be underwater at 3m of SLR as soon as 2100
Some of these affected ports are located in the east coast of China: from Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen to Hong Kong which are also among the world’s top 10 container ports in terms of throughput. Given what’s at stake, the port authorities in these cities should step up protecting their port facilities from coastal threats. But how do China’s port organisations react to coastal threats? Why some of them are more willing to adapt to coastal threats than the others?
Majority of China port organisations are aware of & preparing for the climate change
In 2020, a survey of 18 Chinese port organisations from Bohai Rim and Yangtze River Delta indicated that they believe the consequences of climate change could have a minimum of “major” impact on their ports (Note: from highest to lowest impact – Catastrophic, Critical, Major, Minor, Negligible). More than half are worried that high waves due to SLR could cause significant damages to the traffic infrastructure and superstructures (such as cranes and warehouses), port/wharf facilities, berth waterway, and land access. The majority thinks that the impacts of storm-induced high waves on these infrastructure/facilities are minor or negligible compare to SLR.
Closer look of the survey shows that 85% of the port executives and managers have heard of and got involved in response to climate change; all indicate that they have a port contingency plan; 72% claim they have a special emergency department; 44% state that there are authoritative support and technical guidance outside their company’s employees.
18 Chinese ports believe climate change could have “major” impact
Indeed, the port organisations in China are “proactively reacting” to the impacts of climate change. Most respondents’ organisations have included climate change in their strategic plans and particularly emphasize “flood” (39%) and “storm” (66%) in their insurance plan. The majority identify drain pump (89%), embankment (89%), breakwater (83%), and seawall (50%) as the protective measures they have utilised.
Mitigation or adaptation?
It is interesting to note that 55% of respondents in the survey perceived mitigation is more viable, and policy support (100%) is the most crucial incentive to implement, among other factors such as well-established technology (80%) and lower cost (10%). On the contrary, 45% of the respondents perceived that adaptation is easier to implement with the technology support (100%) ranked the most important incentive, among other factors such as policy support (88%) and lower cost (63%).
Knowledge & tech of adaptation strategies are key for building resilience
However, after reviewing the ports’ current climate adaptation plans and implementation, the authors cautioned that “…many ports overlook the impacts of flooding and the response exercises. As climate change impacts are not easily foreseeable or beyond the significant climate change that they have experienced and invested much money, port organisations do not possess accurate recognition of climate change and its impact”. As a result, the authors suggested that “the attitude towards climate impact assessment measures and the trade-offs between the costs and benefits of response strategies may not be consistent among all the port organizations”.
The survey findings showed that policy support as well as the knowledge and technology of adaptation strategies are keys to determine whether a port would build its resilience against climate change. In this regard, the government should play an active role in formulating climate-related policies to inform port organisations the importance of climate adaptation; while the availability of research on climate adaption (such as the impact of adaptation management, organisational behaviours, and policies that facilitate implementation of adaptation strategies) will encourage stakeholders to learn more about such strategies.
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