Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation: A Challenge for Global Ports

16 November 2011

Ad-Hoc Expert Meeting focuses on issues of key importance for sustainable transport and trade; a summary of discussions and main outcomes has now been published.

Port workers look at containers
Ad Hoc Expert Meeting

The Ad Hoc Expert Meeting, held in Geneva on 29-30 September 2011, provided a platform for expert discussions on how best to improve the understanding of climate change impacts on ports and develop effective and appropriate adaptation response measures. Participants included policy makers and planning authorities, port and shipping industry representatives, relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, scientists and engineers.

Some of the main messages that emerged as part of discussions include the following:

  • There is a need for more awareness-raising about the complex implications that climate change may have on ports and related transport networks, including port hinterland connections and the cities in which they are located or that are adjacent.
  • Bridging the gap between science and policy is crucial and requires collaboration and dialogue between all stakeholders, in particular scientists and academia; the transport industry, the insurance sector, financial and lending institutions as well as policy makers.
  • Although the effects of climate change at a global level are increasingly well-known, limited data availability at the local and regional level implies that the design of relevant and appropriate response measures needs to take into account high levels of uncertainty. The availability and efficient dissemination of timely, more tailored information and data as well as their efficient flow and transmission is therefore important.
  • In view of the complexity of some of the issues at stake, further research and analytical work is needed, including through targeted case-studies. Risk and vulnerability assessments are key to effectively addressing climate change impacts on ports and related transport infrastructure.

In addition, a number of concrete next steps have been identified as follows:

  • Establish a neutral web-based platform for participants at the Ad Hoc Expert Meeting, to provide continuity to the deliberations, as well as share studies, research, data, and information. This platform would in due course be open to other interested parties to foster dialogue, cooperation, information sharing between all interested parties.
  • Prepare a joint academic paper on the subject which would draw from diverse range of complementary areas of expertise and knowledge. The paper could, in due course, form the basis for a more policy oriented document prepared by the UNCTAD secretariat.
  • Further awareness raising and capacity building, including for ports in developing regions is needed. In this respect, the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) suggested that its March 2012 meeting in Sri Lanka could be used as a suitable platform for further dissemination of information and discussion; the possibility of convening a conference or other meeting on the topic of climate change adaptation for ports could, subject to funding, also be explored further.
  • The IAPH expressed an urgent need for port case studies to be carried out, in particular for the purposes of risk-assessment. Relevant case studies should, subject to funding and resource considerations, involve at least five ports covering different regions and types of ports, including river ports.
  • For the purposes of developing guidance, checklists and other tools in support of adaptation in ports, it would be useful if existing best practices, as well as relevant information on adaptation measures from other economic sectors could be identified and collated. Pilot studies could also play a useful role in developing specific tools and adaptation solutions.
  • Promote more dialogue, cooperation, information sharing and partnerships among all stakeholders and interested parties and deepen existing institutional and expert cooperation, including (a) between UNCTAD and the UNECE and between UNCTAD and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and, (b) between the scientific community and the port industry, to better identify ports' specific research needs and ensure information tailored to respond to ports' requirement.