The Next Silk Route

Seeing this map of the melting Arctic Sea and subsequent shipping routes in the Economist a few weeks ago startled me.  I was programmed to think of voyages and conquests by the Economist’s cover picture of a ruddy Viking. And this triggered, at least for me, a profound reality: Everything we know about shipping is about to change because of climate change.

Just hearing that certainty alone sends an Arctic chill down my spine.  I’m not ready to give up that icy white at the top of my son’s globe. Or all the mystery, epoch history, science and beauty locked up there simply to buy get cheaper toys, clothes, solar panel parts, fish protein, energy and the list goes on and on.

But ready or not, the draft National Climate Assessment suggests we already are registering a decrease in sea ice, snow cover and glaciers, as well as an increase in ocean temperatures. Indeed, reflecting the physics of glaciers, they are retreating faster than most models originally had predicted.

So the climate has created an opportunity for this era’s Genghis Khan to open up trade routes that were a mere child’s dream of racing boats across a plastic globe only a few years ago.  I’m heartened to see that a multinational collaboration is taking the lead.  The Arctic Council comprises adjacent countries: the United States, Canada, Denmark (representing Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.  Corporations are chomping at the bit for the new shipping, fishing and extractives possibilities and a responsible policy will help to ensure safe handling.

Time has given the Vikings and Genghis Khan a romantic and heroic reputation as adventurers. Let’s hope the heroism of this new era of profound geologic change leads to two developments: the halt of other climate events through employing greenhouse gas mitigation and a careful and considerate approach to the use of our new geographical landscape.




Ports: Staying Competitive Through Climate Adaptation

Climate change will impact longstanding infrastructure, such as our ports. And since the vast majority of non-service-sector corporations rely on ports for some part of their supply chain, I encourage you to read Climate Risk and Business Ports, a framework for both evaluating and mitigating the risks of climate change on port operations. Its summary can help us find ways to evaluate risk. The report notes that climate change is likely to impact:


• Demand, trade levels and patterns affecting total trade through the port

• Navigation and berthing

• Goods handling

• Vehicle movements inside the port

• Goods storage

• Inland transport beyond the port

• Environmental performance

• Social performance

• Insurance

Suggested solutions include raising causeway road heights, paving unpaved surfaces, increasing bridge clearances, increasing culvert diameters, reconsidering road underpasses, improving drainage, managing refrigeration’s energy intensity, developing trade in climate-resilient commodities, protecting storage areas from flooding and adding additional insurance.

Generally, building to a higher standard is now a viable climate adaptation for long-life infrastructure. Ports that begin now to increase the reliability of their infrastructure can improve their economic performance and attractiveness to investors and users.