Met Office panel discusses climate change impacts for ports

Northern Lighthouse Board's Pharos. Credit: Ines Nastali
Northern Lighthouse Board's Pharos. Credit: Ines Nastali

During the London International Shipping Week, the UK Met Office held a seminar on board the Northern Lighthouse Board’s lighthouse tender Pharos. The discussions revolved around climate change and how prepared ports are to react to alterations in the local climate.

Julia King, Baroness Brown of Cambridge, deputy chair of the UK Climate Change committee, opened the session and called for making the adaptation reporting power (ARP) mandatory to get a better overview of how prepared ports are for erosion, tidal surges, flooding, and other extreme weather within their premises. “Ports have good planning in place but we don’t see enough evidence that these plans are being implemented,” she said.

James Trimmer, director of planning and environment of the Port of London Authority (PLA), gave an insight into the challenges ports face in relation to climate change. The PLA conducted a climate risk assessment as part of a response to government as part of the ARP. The PLA was well aware of some key weather and climate issues on the river – such as sea level rise, fog, and wind – but until it completed its last adaptation report, it had not considered the risks associated with peak flow on navigation on the upper river Thames. As a result, it established a warning system for the safety of rowers on the river, and this was almost immediately put to the test during sustained flood conditions in January and February 2014, resulting in an immediate benefit.

“All the issues we thought affect us would be at the deep end, but the report showed it was more in the shallow end. We didn’t expect changes to be implemented so quickly. What we considered to be relevant for the long term happened a lot sooner. Climate change hit us sooner and harder than expected,” Trimmer said.

The port authority has been forced to fast-track its climate change resilience plan from long-term implementation to a two- to three-year period that will see it prepare to deal with increasing rainfall at some of its locks, re-optimise its choices of trees for landscaping on its property, monitor emissions more aggressively, and offer better power alternatives to traditional ship fuel.

However, Tim Camp, London Offshore Consultants, also pointed out port opportunities from the offshore renewables sector, which will grow amid a low-carbon future. “Their investments can drive down levelised cost of electricity prices for offshore wind,” he said. One example is to provide storage areas in the port for offshore installation equipment.