Global warming could cost the merchant navy billions

Rising sea levels from global warming are likely to cost ports a fortune in the coming decades, according to a report by the Environmental Defense Fund.

The general public is now well aware that a considerable rise in the level of the oceans is to be expected, a direct consequence of global warming. When tackling this problem, we all tend, and quite naturally, to think first of the human consequences. But this is not the only element that will have to be taken into account; it will probably be necessary to review port logistics from top to bottom.

In any case, this is the conclusion of a report by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) which looked at the consequences of global warming on the merchant navy. And the least we can say is that there is something to be gloomy between the occasional floods, the global rise in water levels and especially the extreme climatic phenomena that are looming.

The latter, in particular, pose a major threat to this industry. Today, according to the report, almost 20% of merchant ships lost are because of the weather. However, many scientific studies have already shown that violent storms are more and more numerous. And the trend is not about to reverse. In the future, playing cat and mouse with cyclones may well become part of the routine of container ships; a situation that would inevitably generate significant additional costs.

Infrastructure also at risk

And it’s not just about the ships themselves, but also the port infrastructure and logistics. To begin with, the slightest damage to this massive equipment can very quickly amount to millions of euros. But above all, these events force the port to operate in slow motion, or even shut down for a while in extreme cases.

And even in the absence of extreme events, ports will still have to adapt to this new status quo. They will have to protect all their structures, even raising them or moving the port entirely in extreme cases.

Taken together, these elements will generate very significant losses for operators. The report states that these losses are likely to amount to $10 billion per year by 2050. If no major action is taken by then, this figure could even reach 25 billion per year in 2100. According to The Verge, this represents a cost greater than the annual operational profits of the entire container shipping industry…

Very limited room for maneuver

This bad news falls in an already complicated context for the merchant navy, damaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. “Like the Covid-19 pandemic that pushed our global supply chain into crisis, the climate emergency will have major consequences for international trade,” explains the EDF press release.

The last concern is that it is quite difficult to offer satisfactory leads, and therefore to be optimistic on this issue. Admittedly, there are many interesting projects like those of Oceanbird, whose eco-responsible sailing container ship should set sail in 2024. But on the scale of the ecological disaster that is looming, these initiatives represent a drop of water in the ocean, and it is the case to say it.

Because global warming is a problem that goes far beyond the simple framework of the merchant navy, and it would take a joint effort from all sectors of the industry to reverse the trend… which unfortunately has little chance of happening in the time, based on the current trend.

The full text of the report is available here.

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