Demand for ports to 2050: Climate policy, growing trade and the impacts of sea-level rise

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Port infrastructure is critical to the world's economy and has seen major expansion over the last few decades. In the future there are likely to be further demands for port capacity which will require additional port area while existing ports will need upgrading in response to sea-level rise to maintain current levels of operability. This analysis considers potential changes to 2050 under four climate-based scenarios which aim to explore changes in international maritime trade consistent with global temperature increases of 2 °C and 4 °C and the implications of associated sea-level rise. All scenarios anticipate a significant increase in trade, and a change in distribution across commodities. The demand for port handling areas in 2050 is roughly double to quadruple that of the baseline (2010) across scenarios. The maximum demand occurs under an unmitigated climate and high intensity in commodity movement with a maximum area in 2050 of 5,054km2. The minimum demand (2,510km2) occurs under a scenario of regionalized green energy production and lower material intensity. The total global investment costs for port adaptation to sea-level rise and provision of new areas are between 223 and 768 billion USD to 2050. These are dominated by the need for new area construction with the adaptation of base year areas to relative sea-level rise representing a maximum of 6% of total costs globally. Therefore, in addition to adapting existing port areas to sea-level rise, it is equally or more important to consider provision of new ports.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020EF001543
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number8
Early online date6 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Climate change
  • Ports
  • Sea-level rise
  • Trade scenarios

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