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Opinion
Francis Wilkinson

Rising Seas Are the Next Crisis for the World’s Ports

They’re still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, but in the coming decades, shipping companies will increasingly have to deal with rising seas. 

The port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, October 2021.

The port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, October 2021.

Photographer: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP

The delicate choreography of ships, trains and trucks at the world’s ports has been badly disrupted by the pandemic, and the turmoil is not likely to end soon. If a virus can have such an adverse impact on the journey of a plastic toy or automobile from Point A to Point B, consider the potential impact of something even more pervasive and powerful: water.

In the years ahead, sea level rise, more intense storm surge and jacked-up tropical storms will be visiting many of the world’s roughly 3,800 ports. Most of those ports are coastal; roughly a third are located in a tropical band vulnerable to the most powerful effects of climate change. “If sea levels rise and storms become stronger as expected in the future due to climate change, the magnitude and costs of these disruptions are expected to grow,” states a report from the Environmental Defense Fund.