Category: Transport

Climate-sensitive ‘chokepoints’ threaten global food trade

Climate-sensitive ‘chokepoints’ threaten global food trade

By Gracie Pearsall

A recent report published by the UK think-tank, Chatham House, has identified 14 critical locations that, while integral to global food trade, are also extremely at risk to the effects of climate change. The report dubs these locations “chokepoints,” and analyzes how disruptions from climate change could impact the food security of millions of people.

All 14 chokepoints are junctions on the global food transport system. The chokepoints encompass areas such as maritime corridors, ports, and inland transport infrastructure. The global food trade relies heavily on these chokepoints. For example, more than half the world’s staple crops (wheat, maize, rice, soybean) and fertilizers pass through at least one of the maritime chokepoints identified.

Increasing chokepoint risks

These chokepoints are exposed to distinct risks and hazards. Weather events, such as flooding and drought, regularly reduce efficiency, and damage infrastructure. Security, conflicts, and political dynamics can also disrupt trade at these chokepoints. Additionally, chokepoints face institutional risks if authorities choose to close a port, or restrict exports and imports. All but one of the identified chokepoints have been closed or severely interrupted at least once in the last 15 years. This report found that closings and interruptions such as these will occur more frequently as chokepoints risks increase.

Aside from climate change, two trends are increasing the chokepoint risks. First, dependency on chokepoints is growing. For example, in 2000, only six percent of crops and fertilizers relied on one of the maritime chokepoints as the only viable transit route. Now, this figure has risen to ten percent. This dependency increases risks because it concentrates a major amount of crops and fertilizers in a small number of vulnerable locations.

Second, there is chronic underinvestment in the infrastructure at these chokepoints. Inadequate infrastructure leaves these locations ill-prepared to handle the growing volume of trade, and also limits the infrastructure’s capacity to become resilient to the changing climate. For example, frequent heavy rains often render Brazil’s muddy roadways impassable.  Likewise, US waterways and Gulf ports are old and congested, making them especially vulnerable to flooding, droughts, and hurricanes. Countries that rely on food imports, such as those in North Africa and the Middle East, will become especially vulnerable as weather hazards intensify and as the international food trade grows

Climate-related risks

The Chatham House report identifies climate change as the biggest risk to chokepoints. Climate change will act as a “hazard multiplier,” by amplifying the effects of all the afore-mentioned risks. Moreover, climate change will bring risks of its own. Climate change will increase the frequency of extreme and severe weather events, such as floods, droughts, heavy rainfall, and heatwaves, which will block chokepoints and harm infrastructure. For example, flooding hit US waterways in 2016, which completely stopped transit. During a 2015 heatwave, major US rail lines kinked and derailed several trains and stopped transit.

Slow on-set climate consequence further threatens chokepoint infrastructure. For example, sea level rise poses a huge risk to maritime corridors and ports, and will require significant adaptation responses. Furthermore, climate change acts as a driver of instability because climate-related stress exacerbates social and political climates, and fuels armed conflicts.

Dealing with the at-risk chokepoints

An example of a country successfully minimizing chokepoint risks is China. It imports a lot of food, but it has diversified supply routes. Although 87% of China’s grain imports travel through maritime chokepoints, only four percent move through chokepoints with no alternative routes. Chinese companies have also built railroads in South America as an alternative route to the Panama Canal (one of the 14 chokepoints). China’s actions epitomize the report’s recommended approach to handling increasing chokepoint risks.

In conclusion, the Chatham House report emphasizes the need to mitigate damage by investing in infrastructure at these chokepoints, and adapting to the risks by lessening reliance on the checkpoints. The report also advises governments and businesses to integrate chokepoint analysis into risk management planning, and create a “supply-sharing” network and plan, in case of chokepoint failure and trade emergency.

Cover photo: Maritime, coastal and inland chokepoints and major shipping routes identified in the report. Source: Chatham House.
Podcast: Climate adaptation and European ports: Isabelle Ryckbost

Podcast: Climate adaptation and European ports: Isabelle Ryckbost

By Will Bugler

Ports are vital hubs in global trade networks, linking all of the goods transported by sea with land-based industry and consumers. They are also vulnerable to climate change and its impacts. To find out how ports in Europe are responding to climate change Acclimatise spoke with Isabelle Ryckbost, Secretary General of the European Sea Ports Organisation. Speaking in the wake of her keynote speech at the recent NavClimate conference, Isabelle explains that climate risks to physical port infrastructure are only part of the story when it comes to building the climate resilience of European ports.

Listen now:


Cover photo by  Rik Schuiling / TropCrop-TCS / Archive CC by 3.0
Surface water flooding, not sea level rise the main vulnerability for many ports

Surface water flooding, not sea level rise the main vulnerability for many ports

By Jim Hight

Editor’s note: This post was adapted from an article that first appeared in the Climate Change Business Journal.

Many seaports will have to invest significant resources to assess their climate-related vulnerabilities and develop adaptation strategies in the coming decades. But the sheer variety of port settings and configurations means that this common challenge will require individually tailored solutions.

“Every port is different,” said Heather Wood, Ports Market Sector leader for environmental consulting and engineering firm Kennedy Jenks. “They all do the same things, but they’re located in very different places, with different climates, different environmental concerns.”

“Some are smack in the middle of communities that have grown around them while some are in industrial areas with few neighbors,” said Wood. “Some are inland, some are close to the ocean. Some have issues with subsidence like New Orleans and Hampton Roads.”

A port’s most obvious vulnerability would at first glance appear to be sea level rise (SLR). But while SLR and the associated higher storm surges have the potential to overtop wharves and piers, reduce the clearance between ships and bridges and create other impacts—flooding from more intense precipitation is a greater threat to many ports.

“Ports are already prepared for hurricanes and northeasters, and they know when they have to shut down,” said Wood. “It’s the localized flooding that can occur in the middle of operations that could short out a system and disable their increasingly automated systems of sensors, cameras and wireless infrastructure.”

In a study of climate change vulnerabilities for the Port of Manzanillo—Mexico’s largest and fastest growing container port—Acclimatise and Worley Parsons Advisian identified surface water flooding as a more significant near-term problem than SLR. Like many ports, it sits at the bottom of a catchment basin where it receives runoff from the surrounding city. Soil erosion combined with garbage collecting in the drainage system are “already causing disruptions that are likely to increase with very heavy rainfall events associated with climate change,” said Richenda Connell, CTO of Acclimatise.

Without new measures to mitigate flooding, disruptions at Manzanillo from more intense precipitation could double by 2050, leading to higher maintenance costs and more downtime. As part of their report, the consultants provided a cost-benefit analysis of adaptation actions (see chart) to give port authorities and private terminal operators a menu of their options.

SLR figures into long-term planning

Of course, sea level rise must be factored into ports’ long-term planning. “What I see routinely is that when ports are planning for new infrastructure, most are taking climate change into consideration,” said Doug Daugherty, managing principal of technical and scientific consultancy Ramboll Environ. “Where potential issues come up is for the existing infrastructure.”

Some studies over the last 10 years illustrate the potentially enormous scale of the SLR challenge. A 2008 OECD study on vulnerable port cities by R. Nicholls and a 2011 article in Climatic Change by Nicholls and colleagues ranked the top 20 port cities for climate vulnerability.

Heavily populated, low-lying deltaic cities in South Asia rank at the top for vulnerability, with 37 million people expected to be exposed by 2070 in Kolkata, Mumbai and Dhaka. The top three in exposed asset value: Miami, Guangzhou and New York-Newark, where over $9 trillion in property will be at risk in 2070.

In December 2015, four Stanford University Civil and Environmental Engineering professors published a “Thought Exercise” to estimate the cost of elevating all U.S. ports to a new height based on regional 2070 projections for sea level rise and storm surge. Their estimates: $66 billion to $88 billion, plus 495 million cubic meters of fill, which would cost an estimated $30 billion for dredging, dozing and compaction. And those estimates excluded the costs of adapting buildings and infrastructure.

As the projections from Nicholls et al make clear, ports aren’t stand-alone infrastructure but gateways to cities, regions and countries. And port planning for climate change must be integrated with regional planning, especially for transportation. “Ports can’t function without the rails, trucks and the larger transport network to move freight and the workforce.,” said Wood. “While ports can plan for sea level rise, it’s imperative that other transporation modes do the same.”

Changing projections

Like all coastal governments and property owners, ports face great uncertainty in terms of how quickly sea levels will rise. For SLR projections in its 2011 MasterPlan 2035, the Port of Miami used estimates from the Climate Change Advisory Task Force established by the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, which in 2008 predicted a 1.5 foot rise by 2060. But Miami-Dade and other South Florida counties later updated these projections, estimating 2060 sea levels at 11 to 22 inches higher, 28 to 57 inches by 2100.

“The projections keep changing,” said Daugherty, noting recent scientific papers examining whether the Antarctic ice sheet is melting faster than currently predicted. “Other scientists are looking at the possibilities that when we get to certain higher temperature ranges we might lose the Antarctic and Greenland ice, which would put us geologically in similar conditions as a past interglacial period with its corresponding much higher sea levels than what is currently projected.”

So, what triggers a port owner to take climate change adaptation seriously and invest the relatively small sums needed for a climate vulnerability assessment?

Ramboll Environ has performed such assessments for California ports in the context of environmental impact reports (EIRs) prepared for port planning and capital projects. Although the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) does not require an analysis of the environment’s impact on a proposed project—an interpretation upheld by the state Supreme Court in December 2015—many local governments, including port authorities, choose to include an analysis of climate change impacts in their EIRs.

In developing countries, port climate change risks assessments are generally funded by multilateral development banks—and MDBs’ funding is typically triggered by contemplated investments in port expansions or upgrades, according to Connell, whose firm also also worked on a climate adaptation study for the Muelles del Bosque port in Cartagena, Colombia.

The Manzanillo project was funded by the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB), and the Cartagena project by the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

IDB and other MDBs like the World Bank and IFC “work very hard to use the lessons from these types of studies to spread the word more broadly through their communities,” said Connell. Connell expects port authorities and private terminal operators to eventually become more active in funding such studies in developing countries’ ports, especially those that are expanding.

Ports and large port users have also funded adaptation measures that benefit an entire community. As noted in The Business Case for Responsible Corporate Adaptation published by UNEP, CDP and others in 2015, Brazilian mining firm Vale invested $18.6 million in the Capixaba Hydrometeorological Monitoring Center in partnership with the Government of Espírito Santo. The sophisticated weather forecasting helps Vale and the community be more alert for extreme weather events.

Image: Costs & Benefits of Adaptation Measures, Port of Manzanillo. Source: Accliamtise, Worley Parsons Advisian.

A rapidly changing industry

Planning for climate change impacts, where it occurs, is taking place within an industry that is investing heavily in upgrading channels and infrastructure to accommodate super-sized “post-Panamax” container ships (so named because the Panama Canal is being upgraded to accommodate them).

Ports are competing to become Post-Panamax Ready. According to Panorama, the magazine of Colombian airline Copa, East Coast ports are dredging harbors and raising bridges to become PPR with the expectation that they’ll take market share from West Coast ports.

The Port of New York and New Jersey is investing $1.3 billion to raise the roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge that spans the Kill Van Kull strait between Staten Island and Bayonne, N.J., by 64 feet

With their port clients engaged in such large and fast-paced capital programs, it’s difficult for climate change consultants to get a seat at the table. According to Connell, the key is raising awareness within the ports and shipping industries.

“It’s like anything in the world of climate change adaptation,” said Connell. “The first step is building this broad-based awareness of whether it’s an issue. For ports, the role of organization like PIANC [World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure] in raising awareness is essential to get that first step in place.”

Acclimatise, Ramboll Environ and other firms are supporting PIANC to develop guidance on adaptation. Daugherty is serving as principal U.S. representative to PIANC’s permanent task group on climate change.

Connell says she and her colleagues view such work with industry associations as important for business development and for advancing the practice of climate change adaptation.

“We see that assisting industry associations as they seek to mobilize their members is a very important step in getting as broad a community of stakeholders as possible enlightened,” said Connell. “Acclimatise has also supported oil and gas industry associations in a similar vein.”


Jim Hight is Senior Editor of the Climate Change Business Journal. He has served as a Contributing Editor for both Environmental Business Journal and Nutrition Business Journal and as a Research Analyst for Environmental Business International since 1999. He has written extensively about finance, marketing and regulatory affairs in the environmental and nutrition industries. Jim has consulted since 1983 for a wide range of private companies, public agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Cover photo by Andy Liang (CC BY 2.0)
Protecting the Caribbean’s ports is essential for regional climate resilience

Protecting the Caribbean’s ports is essential for regional climate resilience

By Charlotte Strawson

Few nations are more reliant on ports than the small island states of the Caribbean. Island economies are highly dependent on the flow of goods and people and the Caribbean’s trade in energy, water, agricultural goods and its tourism industry all rely heavily on seaports. However, climate change increasingly threatens port infrastructure, and impacts such as sea level rise and coastal flooding can disrupt operations.

Sea level rise in the Caribbean has occurred at a rate of about 2 to 4 cm per decade over the past 30 years according to the Inter-American Development Bank. This trend is set to increase, and presents major risks to the region. Caribbean countries are already subjected to severe weather events such as hurricanes and floods, which could also become more intense as the atmosphere warms.

The Caribbean’s low-lying coastal regions are particularly vulnerable to impacts of climate change. Over 80% of the Bahamas, for instance, lies below 1.5m of the mean sea level. A study found that the land surrounding 35 out of 44 Caribbean ports will be inundated by 1m of sea level rise, if no coastal protection structures are put into place (Simpson et al, 2010). Climate change adaptation for ports in the Caribbean is, therefore, of great importance.

Size matters

The risks associated with rising sea levels and flooding have been assessed in other parts of the world, especially at larger ports in Australia and North America. However, there are far fewer studies on the impacts of climate change for smaller ports. In the Caribbean small ports act as hubs for coastal settlements, with a large proportion of the regional population residing in the surrounding areas. It is essential for these settlements to be considered in adaptation strategies, and for further research to be undertaken onto the impacts of climate change on networks of smaller ports and marinas.

Furthermore, these small ports are often hot spots for the cruise industry. The Caribbean’s sea, sand and sun attracted over 10,000,000 cruise passengers in the first half of 2015 alone, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. If sea levels rise as predicted, the disruption to this industry alone would be severely detrimental to Caribbean economies that are highly dependent on tourism.

Trading nations

Most Caribbean countries have open economies that rely on international imports for food, manufactured goods, transportation and fisheries. Exports are also crucial for the region, for example Trinidad and Tobago exported $11 billion of goods and resources in 2015, with the top export being petroleum gas. Intra-regional trade is also vital, in the period 2010-2014 the value of imports among the Caribbean Community averaged at $3.1 billion, while exports averaged at $2.9 billion (CARICOM, 2016). The majority of these exchanges and trade linkages rely on ports, as air travel is too expensive. Protecting ports from climate extremes is crucial to maintain economic prosperity in the region.

Climate risks to ports are diverse and include both direct impacts to port infrastructure and indirect impacts to supply chains. A 2011 report from the International Finance Corporation (IFC),  gives a detailed risk assessment of the Muelles el Bosque in Columbia. It shows how climate change might impact on vehicle movements inside the port, trade imports and exports, flood risks to storage areas, refrigeration costs due to rising temperatures and impacts on grain storage.

The region’s policymakers increasingly recognise climate risks to Caribbean ports, and the need to prioritise climate adaptation and building resilience. The redesign and modification of ports to minimise the disruption caused by flooding, storm surges and sea-level rise has been prioritised. In 2015 the UK government announced a £300 million fund for Caribbean infrastructure, seeing investments in roads, ports and sea defences. Other adaptationactions emerging include upgraded storage facilities that can withstand more severe extreme weather events and investment in cranes that operate safely under stronger winds.

The Caribbean is a region that is highly dependent on ports for both trade and tourism. Rising sea levels and severe weather events therefore have the potential to cause significant damage to the regional economy and threaten the region’s development goals. Taking early action to adapt to climate impacts is therefore essential to sustain economic growth and prosperity for Caribbean countries.


Charlotte Strawson is a final-year Geography student at Newcastle University. Charlotte has a keen interest in climate change adaptation and sustainable development and has recently completed her dissertation project which focussed on planning consent for offshore wind turbines.



Cover photo by Roger W (CC by 3.0)
Stockholm airport simulator brings the world’s weather to Sweden

Stockholm airport simulator brings the world’s weather to Sweden

How far would you travel to feel the sun’s warmth in the winter months? Well the people of Stockholm (where the winters can get a little nippy) may only need to go as far as the city’s airport. Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, has developed a simulator that, by ‘using the latest sound and image technology’ and temperature simulations, can recreate the climate at many popular travel destinations. Pack your shorts, and stay at home!

Cover photo by Andreas Trepte (CC by 2.5)
Investors warn car industry over climate risk

Investors warn car industry over climate risk

By Terry Macalister

Major investors have warned the automotive industry it needs to accelerate its readiness for a low-carbon world if it is to retain their support and prosper.

Vehicle makers must put climate change specialists on their boards, engage better with policy-makers, and invest more heavily in low-emission cars, says a network of 250 global investors with assets of more than $24trillion.

The demands come in a new report, Investor Expectations of Automotive Companies, published this week by the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC).

“Long-term investors want to ensure that automotive companies are prepared for the challenges stemming from climate change, new technologies, changing policies and shifts in demand caused by global trends,” says Dr Hans-Christoph Hirt, co-head of investment house Hermes EOS, a member of the IGCC.

“Investors expect the industry to embark upon a smoother route to future prosperity by developing and implementing long-term business strategies that are resilient to climate change and resulting regulatory shifts.”

Sustainable returns

Chris Davis, senior programme director of the Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk, another IIGCC member, agrees. “A growing number of institutional investors recognise that climate change will impact their holdings, portfolios, and asset values in the short and long-term,” he says.

“To achieve sustainable returns for clients and beneficiaries, investors in the automotive sector must engage to ensure companies are prepared to thrive in a carbon-constrained environment and support robust policy action sufficient to drive the transition to clean vehicles.”

The traditional car industry has gradually been increasing its output of pure electric and hybrid diesel/electric models, but in small numbers. It has failed to shrug off its image as a foot-dragger in the fight against climate change – similar to the way most big oil companies are seen.

The recent Volkswagen emissions scandal, in which the German car manufacturer used “cheat devices” that underplayed pollution on its cars, has further tarnished the industry’s image over the last 12 months. And critics have long claimed that few vehicles live up to the fuel consumption levels claimed of them.

Making sure the industry has “closed the gap between real world and emissions testing” is highlighted by the IIGCC as one of the key issue that must be fixed.

But the finance houses also want car and truck makers to set more meaningful targets and metrics to reduce greenhouse gases in their own supply chain. And car companies need to engage more meaningfully with international policy-makers and their own investors on climate change.

Big investors point out that large car companies face serious threats inside their own sector from innovators such as the California-based automaker Tesla, evangelists for climate change and producers of low-carbon electric vehicles.

Climate agreement

And the finance houses say the move towards driverless vehicles, being pioneered by the likes of Google, poses a threat of even more severe potential new competition for the traditional car firms.

Last year’s Paris climate change agreement has increased the urgency for the big manufacturers such as Ford, VW and Toyota to move more quickly, the report warns.

They point to a recent study by the Moody’s credit agency that highlighted the potential dangers of tighter regulations for vehicles.

And the new IIGCC report warns that the automotive industry is already exposed to “a plethora of CO2 and pollutant emission reduction targets in all major markets”.

It says that tougher vehicle standards have already been implemented or are on their way in Australia, Brazil, China and India, as well as the US and Europe.

And it stresses that governments are increasingly incentivising the use of electric vehicles in countries such as Norway and Holland.

Cover photo by (CC by 2.0)