By Jonathan Saul
LONDON (Reuters) - Some of the world's largest ports may be unusable by 2050 as rising sea levels hit operations, and efforts to speed up decarbonisation of the maritime sector and bring in new technology are vital, a study showed on Friday.
Weather-related disruptions are already impacting ports across the globe. These include a drought which is hampering operations in the Panama Canal, a top waterway.
The Global Maritime Trends 2050 report, commissioned by leading shipping services group Lloyd's Register and the independent charity arm Lloyd's Register Foundation, looked at future scenarios.
"Of the world’s 3,800 ports, a third are located in a tropical band vulnerable to the most powerful effects of climate change," a Lloyd's Register (LR) spokesperson said.
"The ports of Shanghai, Houston and Lazaro Cardenas (in Mexico), some of the world’s largest, could potentially be inoperable by 2050 with a rise in sea levels of only 40 cm."
Other key ports including Rotterdam are already under pressure, the report said.
"Countries will need to invest in increasing the efficiency and resilience of their ports and logistics infrastructure to keep up with growing demand for imports and consumption," the report said, which was authored by think tank Economist Impact.
Ports highly susceptible to rises in sea levels such as Shanghai could establish flood defence systems similar to Holland's Maeslant Barrier and London’s Thames Barrier, the LR spokesperson said.
"This would negate the need to constantly raise existing floodwalls every decade, which is a short-term and costly solution," the spokesperson added.
Shipping accounts for nearly 3% of global CO2 emissions.
The industry is actively cutting its emissions by reducing its fossil fuel consumption, the LR spokesperson said, adding that it remains fragmented.
"The average shipowner owns circa five ships. As a consequence, not all players are good at gathering data. There can also be a reluctance to share data. Forecasting relies on having access to solid and relevant datasets."
The report was launched ahead London International Shipping Week, which starts on Sept. 11.
(Reporting by Jonathan Saul; Editing by Jan Harvey)