Climate change will hurt shipping sector, says Canada

(Pic: Climate Risks And Adaptation Practices For The Canadian Transport Sector)

When climate change hits, transport networks better be ready.

That’s the key message from a 300-page study on the impacts of global warming in Canada released by the federal government this week.

It’s a rich and granular report, which offers a big-picture analysis of how warming temperatures will impact the country before taking a deep-dive at provincial level.

According to the government, average temperatures in Canada are increasing at around double the global average, up 1.5C between 1950 and 2010.

It’s causing sea ice levels around the country’s Arctic coast to fall fast, houses and roads built on permafrost to sink, and making extreme weather events like flooding more likely.

“Hurricanes, high winds, heavy precipitation, and extreme snowfall have resulted in costly damage and shipping disruptions for marine ports, delayed flights and ferry services and washed-out roads and railways,” reads the chapter focusing on Canada’s Atlantic coast.

“As storm frequency and intensity increases, these impacts will likely continue to be severe.”

Canadians are no stranger to extreme weather. This week states of emergency were declared in Quebec and British Colombia as floodwaters left thousands homeless.

In June 2013 flooding in Alberta left $6 billion in damages and destroyed over 1000km of roads. A month later floods saddled Ontario with its most expensive natural disaster.

For the shipping industry, this should be an instructive report. Cutting carbon emissions is not yet a priority for sector, but here is a piece of work that shows it is not immune to a warming world.

To get goods to and from a ship you need decent roads and rail links. Ships require resilient port facilities and predictable depths in rivers and estuaries.

Across Canada challenges to the shipping sector — which carried $1.04 trillion of merchandise in 2014 — are significant.

Canada’s Northern Territories bordering the Arctic face falling sea ice levels, which “worsens the impacts of storm and wind events, disrupts shipping routes,” write the authors.

While low water levels due to erratic rains have delayed deliveries in the Mackenzie River to northern communities, further south rising sea levels pose risks to British Colombia’s ports.

“Sea-level rise increases the risk of storm-surge flooding. Deeper water increases the height and energy of waves. Extreme high water levels, which typically occur as storm surges are superimposed on high tides, can be particularly destructive to coastal infrastructure.”

In Ontario economic losses due to low water levels in the Great Lakes and St Lawrence Seaway — which scientists cannot directly link to climate change — could hit $1.18 billion by 2030 and $1.92 billion by 2050.

“A continuation of this trend would reduce the loads ships can carry (or produce greater variation in seasonal shipping capacity), increase costs, lead to more frequent shipping-schedule disruptions, and reduce shoreline access,” says the study.

And in Quebec authorities fear rising sea levels are undermining foundations of roads and buildings.

“It decreases the stability of the transport system as a whole and, consequently, that of the supply and mobility system. Tidal and ice movements associated with a rise in temperatures also affect sediment transport and silting.”

Lessons learnt

That’s not to say ports in Canada are doing nothing. The major hubs of Halifax, Montreal and Halifax are working on adaptation plans.

Bay Bulls Harbour in Newfoundland has recently raised its wharf 0.5m and installed a breakwater of 1.5m to offer better protection against storm surges.

Port Saint John in New Brunswick is working on long-term port modernization plans that will account for sea level rise.

Still, ports can only do so much. The real lesson from this study is that transport is a vast and intricate chain of interlocking roads, tracks and waterways.

Knock out one and the others suffer. Shippers may feel impervious as the world warms, but without supply chains to ports, without fuel to power engines or access to markets, its business model will sink.

How climate change will affect Canadian shipping routes

1 — Flooding to port facilities due to sea level rise and heavy rain, erosion in coastal ares and excessively low water levels due to drought.

2 — Rising sea levels could allow bigger ships into some ports, but may also inhibit passage of ships under bridges. Falling water levels in Hudson bay could prevent its use by big ships.

3 — A projected increase in storms and wind could make handling vessels tougher, while melting Arctic ice is likely to mean more open water storms in the region.

4 — Detached chunks of sea ice could present hazards to shipping (as already witnessed in the North Atlantic in 20170

5 — Uncertainty over ice break up could lead to longer or shorter shipping seasons in the Arctic

6 — Conversely a melting Arctic offers up the potential for new and potentially shorter shipping routes

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Tracking international climate diplomacy since 2010 | Trustee @LewYouTheatre | Also at @sportandclimate

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Ed King

Ed King

Tracking international climate diplomacy since 2010 | Trustee @LewYouTheatre | Also at @sportandclimate

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