As climate change continues to pose pressing threats, industries are taking measures to adapt to a warmer, more unpredictable environment.
Despite all the efforts to mitigate environmental impacts, climate change continues to pose pressing threats to life and commerce around the world. While scientists keep questioning whether the goal set by the Paris Agreement to limit human-induced global warming to 1.5°C will be reached successfully, disruptions and damage brought by rising temperatures and extreme weather are already affecting the routine operations of many industries in significant ways.
The maritime transport industry, for example, has been facing adverse effects from constantly rising sea levels and more frequent, stronger storms. According to the latest projection of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global mean sea levels will rise as much as 1.1 metres by the end of this century due to increasing temperatures. Rising waters are expected to inundate 64% of all seaports around the world. Meanwhile, destructive storms like Hurricane Sandy, which paralysed the port of New York for days and caused over USD 70 billions of economic damage in October 2012, are predicted to occur annually by 2050.
“There are many other threats besides carbon emissions, so it is a dangerous myth that we can simply switch to renewable energy and carry on as before,” says Jason Monios, professor of maritime logistics at Kedge Business School in France. To effectively reduce disruption risks arising from climate change, he suggests that climate change adaptation measures should always be proposed in tandem with mitigation efforts.
Port operators are increasingly aware of the urgent need for climate change adaptation. To prevent rising seawater and severe storms from flooding and destroying port infrastructure, some ports have begun to conduct risk assessments and evaluate different responses like raising quay walls, building coastal defences, and moving facilities further away from coastlines.
Following the devastating hit of Hurricane Sandy, a six-mile-long storm-surge barrier has been proposed to protect the New York harbour and surrounding areas. The Tuas Mega Port in Singapore, which is currently under construction and scheduled to be fully completed in 2040, is being built on reclaimed land that is four metres above sea level, rather than the former standard of three metres.
Additionally, since long-distance energy supply chains are more susceptible to disruptions brought by climate change, ports are advised to rely more on local power generation, such as hydrogen and onshore or offshore wind power. In early 2021, the Port of Tallinn in Estonia announced that it would consume only green electricity produced domestically to eliminate dependence on imported fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions. In 2020, the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, which receives 92% of its energy from on-site solar generation, went a step further, introducing an electricity trading platform powered by AI and Blockchain that enables more cost-effective use and production of local renewable energy.
Monios points out, however, that few ports have made investments in climate change adaptation so far, as it is difficult to make plans for uncertain climate events. At the same time, much of the maritime industry focuses solely on resilience and cost-effectiveness. Confronting the unknown severity and frequency of future climate effects will require a change of mindset, according to Monios.
“There is too much focus on resilience and being able to return to normal after each disruption, rather than a longer-term view of living with regular disruptions and redesigning our supply chains and transport systems around that,” he explains.
“The future will be increasingly disrupted,” Monios says. “We should change the narrative focusing on economies of scale and begin to make our systems not just more resilient but more diversified, which will often mean building in redundancy and being less efficient, but more reliable.”
Agriculture is another sector that has been heavily impacted by climate change. Even a slight change in weather conditions can have significant effect on yields, so the agricultural industry is struggling to meet growing demand for food amid rising temperatures, varying rainfall, and more frequent extreme weather events. By 2050, climate change is estimated to reduce global agriculture productivity by 17%.
Farmers around the world are therefore implementing different climate change adaptation measures tailored to overcome their respective challenges. In Brazil, the world’s largest beef exporter, 7 percent of pastures are classified as degraded due to worsening environmental conditions and overgrazing. To restore the degraded pastures, Fazenda Ecológica, a local farm in Minas Gerais in the country’s southeast, began to plant trees on the pastures, which can prevent soil erosion and increase water retention. Moreover, by providing shadows against intense sunlight, the wellbeing of the farm’s cattle is also improved, which translates into better dairy and meat production.
Besides soil degradation, water scarcity is also a common climate change issue faced by many farmers. Over the past two decades, Portugal has been experiencing more frequent and severe droughts, which adds stress to agricultural productivity. Herdade do Freixo de Meio, a 600-hectare community farm in the country’s mid-south Alentejo region, managed to maintain its yields by diversifying crops and introducing methods to use rainwater efficiently like drip irrigation.
“In the current context of climate change, we know that in the future Alentejo will be challenged by extreme climatic events,” writes Alfredo Sendim, the owner of Herdade do Freixo de Meio, in an article published online. “This makes us focus hard on resilience measures that can be implemented in the context of adaptation to climate change.”
Better planning and management are indispensable for farmers adapting to climate change. In Myanmar, where 65% of the population is involved in agriculture, several international organisations jointly launched the Climate Smart Rice project to provide local farmers with training in sustainable agriculture practices. For example, in coastal areas suffering from saltwater intrusion due to the rising sea level, farmers are encouraged to plant salt-tolerant rice to ensure their harvests.
The project also delivers the latest climate news and rainfall prediction to local farmers through a mobile application, helping them better adapt their farming schedule to the increasingly fluctuating rainfall. Initiated in 2019, the project is still expanding the knowledge it shares and its scale. In a video produced by the project, Khin Zaw Tun, an agronomist at ICCO Cooperation, a Dutch NGO promoting sustainable agricultural systems, says, “The most important thing is, we must keep exploring the agricultural methods and techniques that are adaptable to climate change.”