FEATURE: What does climate change mean for port infrastructure in Africa?
What are the uses of climate information for decision-making in the ports sector? George Woolhouse and Darren Lumbruso of HR Wallingford investigate as part of a Future Climate for Africa study.
Maritime transport represents the link between the African continent and global markets. African ports, although small on global scales, are developing fast. Since the mid-1990s, both general cargo and containerised cargo passing through African public ports have trebled and at a global level a quadrupling of container traffic by 2030 is projected.
Development to support this growth will include new deep-water ports, expansion of existing ports, and the rehabilitation of port infrastructure. It will be both long-lived and subject to a range of climate risks such as storm surge, extreme waves and sea level rise. Long-lived infrastructure is inherently exposed to climate risks through its longevity, irreversibility and high initial capital cost. Major transport infrastructure is often designed for a lifetime measured decades and may be operational in a future climate significantly different to the historical climate used for planning and design.
Ports’ standard asset management procedures involve managing climate risks such as the impacts of wave damage on structures, the effects of sedimentation and scour and drainage amongst other risk factors. Climate change will alter the levels of risk, consequently altering the maintenance requirements on existing ports and the levels of risk which should be considered during planning of new ports. Sea level rise also brings slow onset change, which will incrementally increase the impacts of existing hazards on ports over the coming century.
Recommendations for enhancing the climate resilience of long-lived port infrastructure include a broad range of actions from awareness and perception, to adjustment of decision making processes and tools. Given the relative scarcity of information on the processes and tools used by African ports for decision making, further research and engagement with the industry is a central recommendation. This will be core to building an evidence base to steer any further practical actions. Building on existing stakeholder networks and on the body of existing research will be important to maximise the value of future research.
Sharing knowledge and experience across the industry, particularly with port authorities – which are leading the way in climate change adaptation – will be important to ensure the future of Africa’s port developments are sustainable in a changing climate.
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