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World - Climate change impacts on seaports, threat to development

Seaports are essential for global trade-led development, and for the ‘Blue Economy’. They provide access to global markets and supply-chains for all countries, and are integral to maritime transport, as well as fisheries, offshore energy development, and many economic activities in coastal zones.

Seaports are essential for global trade-led development, and for the ‘Blue Economy’. They provide access to global markets and supply-chains for all countries, and are integral to maritime transport, as well as fisheries, offshore energy development, and many economic activities in coastal zones. With over 80 % of world trade volume carried by sea - from port to port -, they are crucial infrastructure nodes that  underpin global supply chains and are key to future trade and development prospects, particularly of developing States which currently account for around  60 % of goods loaded and unloaded globally. At the same time, ports are particularly exposed to various natural hazards, due to their locations along open coasts or in low-lying estuaries and deltas; their setting makes them susceptible to impacts of climatic hazards such as rising sea levels, storm surges, waves and winds,  riverine and pluvial flooding, as well as  tectonic events (e.g. tsunamis).  

Given the critical role of ports in the global trading system and their potential exposure to climate related damage, disruptions and delays, enhancing their climate resilience is a matter of strategic socio-economic importance for the global economy and society as a whole (UNCTAD, 2020a). It is also key to enabling small island developing States (SIDS) and other vulnerable coastal and island nations to explore and harness the full potential and benefits of the blue economy for sustainable development. SIDS and other island nations depend on their seaports as lifelines for external trade, food and energy security, tourism – often a major driver of economic growth and development, as well as in the context of Disaster Risk Reduction. Ports also provide vital socio-economic linkages and are key to regional and inter-island connectivity. However, in many SIDS these critical assets are at high and growing risk of climate change impacts such as coastal flooding, from as early as in the 2030s.

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