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

Due the their locations, ports stand to suffer immensely from rising sea levels; 20 ports analysed across 20 APAC cities will be underwater by 2100 on our current climate path.
18 Chinese ports believe climate change could have 'major' impact; 85% of the port executives and managers have heard of and got involved in response to climate change
Ports taking their own action is not enough, the govts must play an active role in formulating climate-related policies to inform ports the importance of climate adaptation.

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.

Further Reading

  • Surviving Rising Seas – 20 APAC Cities: Who’s ahead & Who’s Behind? – The homes of 28mn to 100mn+ residents could be submerged in just 20 APAC cities. Which cities are more prepared? We walk you through the Top 5 Most Proactive & the Bottom 5 Laggards in our CWR APACCT 20 Index
  • Sovereigns At Risk: Lots Of Capital In Vulnerable Spots – Clustered nature of rising coastal threats plus lax govt action put APAC sovereigns at risk. CWR’s analysis of GDP, trade, markets & bank loans reveal intense concentration of risks. As no-sense strategies pervade, see who’s in CWR’s watchlist
  • Existential Coastal Threats: 8 Things You Must Know – Rapid SLR will happen sooner than we think, yet we are still driving investments to vulnerable locations. CWR’s Debra Tan shares 8 things you need to know about the existential threat from SLR – from glaciers in the mountains to ice sheets in our poles, permafrost + more
  • Future SLR Projections & Biggest Worries – In this follow up interview, HKU’s Dr. Nicole Khan shares her biggest concerns on how future SLR projections are rising higher & faster than thought & shares the best approach for building realistic scenarios
  • 8 Risks You Missed During COVID-19 – Been focused on COVID-19? You are not alone but we can’t get distracted from the climate crisis. Catch-up with CWR’s Chien Tat Low who runs through 8 latest climate & water risks
  • 8 Asia Water Risks: Here Today & Here To Stay In Asia – Damaging typhoons, life & business disrupting water outages and threatening sea level rise… China Water Risk review’s 8 water threats too great to miss in Asia from just the past 3 years
  • Thirsty And Underwater: Rising Risks In Greater Bay Area – How will water & climate risks, including rising sea levels & droughts, threaten the already water-stressed Greater Bay Area (GBA)? CWR’s Tan & Mirando explain in their latest CLSA report and highlight companies’ failure in climate risk disclosures

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Chien Tat Low
Author: Chien Tat Low
Low has extensive inter-disciplinary research experience, which although wide-ranging, focuses on identifying hotspots to facilitate better planning. At CWR, Low uses spatial modelling and statistical analysis as well as remote sensing, cartography, and geo-statistics to map and assess water risks. In addition, he helps manage CWR’s extensive network of contributors and partners. CWR is Low’s first foray outside academia and he hopes to apply his 12 years of scientific know-how toward enhancing the understanding of water risk in Asia, including spatial temporal variabilities of anthropogenic and natural factors on water resources. Previously, Low was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hong Kong where he devised methodologies to measure and benchmark the quality of urban life in an Asian context. As a certified GIS Professional, he also taught GIS and spatial analysis modules there. Low’s research on urban, human and environmental health is published in 11 prominent international peer-reviewed journals; he has also written a chapter in a book on managing environmental hazards. His PhD thesis on place effect on human well-being was prize-winning. Low is currently the reviewer editor for the journal “Frontiers in Environmental Informatics” and also reviews other international journals such as “Applied Geography”.
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