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The Liberia-flagged tanker Peria is escorted by a Turkish coastal safety boat as it transits the Bosphorus, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Jan. 21.Yoruk Isik/Reuters

Rising sea levels could severely disrupt crude oil shipments and erode energy security in import-dependent countries like China, South Korea and Japan, with many of the world’s biggest terminals vulnerable to flooding, researchers said on Tuesday.

Melting ice and swelling seas caused by rising temperatures could “unleash unstoppable multi-metre (sea level rise) which will not only sink key oil ports and disrupt global oil trade but also swamp coastal refineries and petrochemical facilities,” the China Water Risk (CWR) think tank warned in a report.

A 2021 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that on current trends, average sea levels could rise by more than a metre by the end of the century, adding that a two-metre rise could not be ruled out.

Low-lying ports and bunkering facilities would be especially vulnerable to higher sea levels, CWR said after conducting a “stress test” of the maritime infrastructure used to export and import crude oil.

It said 12 out of the top 15 tanker terminals were expected to be impacted by one metre of sea level rise, including five based in Asia.

Up to 42 per cent of global crude oil exports from Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United States and the United Arab Emirates were at risk, affecting 45 per cent of crude shipments to China, the United States, South Korea and the Netherlands, it said.

With Asian countries likely to be hit the hardest, they should lead the way not only in the global transition from oil, but also in improving the resilience of port infrastructure.

“The infrastructure risks highlighted in our report offer unique investment opportunities,” said Debra Tan, CWR director and lead author.

“We must capitalize on them and wean ourselves off oil: far from providing energy security, our oil habit could sink all our futures,” she said.

Japan and South Korea both import around three quarters of their crude oil from ports that are vulnerable to one-metre sea level rises. Most of their own receiving ports could also be impacted, the report warned.

By contributing more climate-warming emissions, the ongoing growth in oil output “could end up shooting the sector in the foot,” CWR added.

If temperature rises were not kept within the key threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), the sea-level rise could reach three metres and put even more port infrastructure at risk, the report said.

“Ironically, oil, a key component of energy security, could end up threatening energy security of multiple countries across Asia, in particular Japan and South Korea,” it said.

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