Category: Transport

UNECE study maps transport infrastructure at high risk due to climate change in Pan-European region and Canada

UNECE study maps transport infrastructure at high risk due to climate change in Pan-European region and Canada

From road and rail networks to ports, airports and inland waterways, critical transport resources are facing unprecedented threats from a climate which is already changing. Spain, for example, has just suffered the most powerful storms experienced in decades, destroying bridges, cutting off roads and railway lines and submerging entire towns in coastal areas. 

In the UK, annual costs related to extreme precipitation/floods and other events, estimated at £50 million in 2010, could increase to up to £500 million by the 2040s. In the European Union, future costs for bridge protection against flooding have been estimated at over €500 million per year

However, adapting transport systems to rising climate risks has so far received relatively low attention. Helping to address this gap, UNECE today released a first of its kind study mapping key areas of the main inland transport networks and nodes, where potential climate risks in the Pan-European region and Canada may increasingly be faced. 

Since the bulk of the transport infrastructure in the region was designed for the climate of the 20th century and has been subject to low public investment in recent decades, it is crucial to map precisely the vulnerability of these assets to extreme climate events. 

Mapping growing climate risks to transport infrastructure

Digital maps developed for the UNECE region show the main transportation networks, overlain by the spatial distribution of climate change projections. This presents an initial perspective of areas of potential risk – or “hotspots” – which could warrant more in-depth assessment, offering a tool that will help to prioritize adaptation efforts. This pioneering work has no equivalent in other regions.  

The study illustrates projections for key climatic factors: 

  • Flooding from high precipitation and extreme storms

Associated with related impacts including landslides and slope failures, these will bring major risks across the region for all modes of transport (road – and airport – infrastructure, railway and inland waterways). 

Areas calling for more detailed analysis include most major “E-Road” arteries, major rail networks and the most highly populated and economically developed areas in middle and low basins of major European rivers (e.g. the Danube, Rhine, Elbe, Po, Dnieper, Don and Volga rivers).  

Key transport networks likely to be affected in Canada are in coastal British Columbia – including both Vancouver and Prince Rupert, which are major gateways to Asia – and in Eastern Canada.

  • Rising sea levels and greater wave activity

Rising sea levels and greater wave activity causing erosion put vital coastal transport infrastructure (i.e. coastal roads, railways, seaports and airports) at risk.  Over 60% of EU seaports may be under high inundation risk by 2100, causing disruptions to operations and damages to port infrastructure and vessels, especially along the North Sea coast, where the traffic of over 500 ports accounts for up to 15% of the world’s cargo transport.

Rising sea levels and increased mobility of summer sea ice are projected to affect the region’s entire Northern and Artic coastlines.  

  • Rising temperatures

Rising temperatures linked to increased heat waves and drier and hotter summers will affect roads, where pavement damages, damages to bridges and increased landslides in mountainous areas are among key risks. Areas considered particularly worthy of more detailed analysis include E-Roads in Southern Europe (South-Eastern France, Italy, Western Balkans, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Turkey) as well as in Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden and Finland). 

On major rail networks – where potential impacts include buckling of tracks, slope failures and speed restrictions – infrastructure in the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, France), northern Europe, and Croatia are among those that could warrant more in-depth review.

Warming is also associated with increased navigational risks on inland waterways, with significant implications for the transport of goods and people, which is already problematic in parts of central Europe.

  • Permafrost melting

This will bring significant stability risks to the road and rail transport infrastructure across Arctic regions of Europe and Canada. 

Sharing country experiences can inform responses

The study builds on work since 2010 of a dedicated UNECE Expert Group, gathering governments from the region – as well as some from outside including Australia and Japan – and UN bodies such as UNFCCC, WMO/IPCC, UNCTAD as well as the European Commission. 

Complementing the mapping, the study draws on country experiences in the form of case studies, demonstrating a range of efforts that have been undertaken to analyse and adapt to climate change impacts. Examples include: 

  • Analysis of future flooding of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley in Germany. In this scenario, the closure of network sections for 21 days in 2030 due to flooding of the federal highway and the closure of ferries would lead to the rerouting of around 7,000 vehicles, 56 long-distance trains, 78 local trains transporting 500,000 people, and 119 freight trains per day.
  • Rating of extreme weather risks coupled with analysis of the physical vulnerability of road infrastructure such as bridges, tunnels and viaducts of a 750 km road network in South-Eastern France.
  • Preparation of guidelines for the adaptation of transport assets in coastal areas in Iceland, including for construction of ports and harbours on which the country is dependent for freight flows.
  • Analysis of risks and impact on operations linked to rising temperatures for Canada’s northern road network, including winter roads built over ice or compacted snow, and all-season roads built through permafrost regions.

Analysis calls for strengthened adaptation efforts 

Among the key recommendations for future work outlined in the report are for public administrations to make available geographical data for their transport networks and nodes, especially those of international importance, and to establish all their transport infrastructure, including local assets, in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). 

Analysis will need to go beyond the current spatial resolution of 12.5 km in Europe and 10 km in Canada.

The Expect Group further calls on all countries, including those with little or no experience of climate change adaptation work, to participate in its efforts.

The analytical work undertaken could eventually lead to the revision or updating of the minimum technical specifications for the construction of transport infrastructure covered by the 4 UN transport infrastructure agreements administered by UNECE: the European Agreement on Main International Traffic Arteries (AGR) for roads; the European Agreement on Main International Railway Lines (AGC); the European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (AGN); and the European Agreement on Important International Combined Transport Lines and Related Installations (AGTC) for intermodal transport. 

The study is available at:

This press release was originally published on the UNECE website.
Cover photo by Cristian S. on Unsplash
Scour risk to UK bridges disrupting over 8 million journeys per year

Scour risk to UK bridges disrupting over 8 million journeys per year

By Anna Haworth

New analysis shows that ‘scour’ risk to bridges from flooding in the UK is causing over 8 million passenger journeys to be lost each year, with an accompanying economic cost of up to £60 million.

Working as a Climate Risk Analyst comes with the slightly unsettling side-effect that I sometimes find myself pondering the climate resilience of the infrastructure around me. I live in the North of England, in the picturesque town of Kendal in the Lake District. For all its natural beauty, it is an area of the country where the infrastructure is often tested by the weather. This year has been no exception, as heavy rains in August have caused the closure of one of the town’s main road bridges for several weeks, as it was found to be experiencing ‘scour’. The extra time this added to my journeys afforded me more opportunity to consider the climate-preparedness of the UK’s infrastructure.

‘Scour’ is the washing away of bridge foundations during flood events, and can cause substantial damage to the structure, leading to transport disruption and safety risks. It is cited as the most common cause of bridge failures in the UK and US. Back in December 2015, severe and widespread flooding in my home county of Cumbria caused damage to 235 road and foot bridges, showing just how widespread this threat is to transport infrastructure.

I first became aware of the severity of this issue during Acclimatise’s involvement in the UK’s first Climate Change Risk Assessment back in 2012. The assessment identified bridge scour as one of the most significant risks facing the transport sector. Ever since I have been keeping an eye on this evolving field of research with interest.

Last month, our friends at the JBA Trust and the University of Oxford, published a new paper on the risk to the British railway network from scour caused by flood events. This research considers the railway network as a whole, including the potential for flood events that might cause more than one bridge to be damaged by scour. Although events of this type are rare, they have occurred in the past and could do so again.

Flooding and bridge failures are not completely predictable, and so the research team took a probabilistic approach to account for uncertainties about the resilience of bridges during flood events. They also used flood event scenarios that are more extreme than anything seen in the historical record but are statistically plausible. Such scenarios would result in severe network disruption, especially when they cause either one or two bridges to fail within the network.

The research team accounted for the frequency and severity of floods using a probabilistic model of river flows that captures the spatial patterns and correlations in extreme events across Britain. They then looked at the consequences of bridge failure in terms of risk of disruption to passenger journeys, which can be translated into an economic estimate of the risk.

Based on this analysis, it is estimated that the risk of bridge scour equates to an average of 8.2 million passenger journeys being lost annually. From an economic perspective, the risk of disruption to passenger journeys can be valued at between £6 m and £60 m annually. This figure represents a partial view of the true risk, which also includes safety risks, impacts on rail freight, operational costs (e.g. related to speed restrictions and delays) and repair costs.

It is important to note that the research model used is based on historical records of bridge failures, and historical river flow data. This means that it is informed by real events, but does not account for future changes in climate. In the future, climate-driven changes in hydrological regimes should be incorporated into such modelling studies. This will help the industry and emergency planners to prepare for the impacts and operational consequences of extreme flood scenarios. Furthermore, scour risk is typically managed through the application of engineering standards and guidance; these will also need to be revisited to test their robustness to future climate conditions.

Although it is economically unfeasible to protect all bridges against all conceivable events, and therefore some residual risk has to be tolerated, it is crucial that infrastructure owners and operators understand the true scale of the potential risk, and that critical infrastructure is designed and maintained to withstand more extreme future climate conditions.

The full Risk Analysis article is available here

Image: Stramongate Bridge, Kendal Taken during the floods of 3rd February 2004. Copyright John Cowking and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Estimating global exposure and risk of transport networks to natural disasters

Estimating global exposure and risk of transport networks to natural disasters

By Anna Halworth

Reliable transport infrastructure is one of the backbones of a prosperous economy, providing access to markets, jobs and social services. However, natural hazards – such as surface, river and coastal flooding, hurricanes and tropical cyclones – can significantly impact the functioning of transport infrastructure. The economic consequences of transport disruptions due to extreme events often go well beyond direct infrastructure damage, also including increased travel costs and time, impaired trips and supply chain disruptions.

Research recently published finds that damage to road and rail infrastructure due to natural disasters could result in average annual costs of approximately $14.6 billion, globally. However, the research team also found that small additional investments at planning stage result in dramatic savings when natural disasters hit. “The benefits of the additional cost of building in more resilience (about 2%) can easily be offset by higher efficiency in spending and service delivery, which can halve total spending needs,” explains co-author Dr Conrad Zorn, of the University of Oxford and ITRC-MISTRAL.

In this study, researchers used state-of-the art global hazard mapping, combined with innovative analysis of approximately 50 million km of transport network data included in OpenStreetMap, and assumptions about the fragility and (re)construction of transport infrastructure derived from a variety of sources. The exposure and risk of these assets was assessed for the most frequently recorded and costliest disasters: tropical cyclones, earthquakes, surface flooding, river flooding and coastal flooding.

This analysis finds that just below a third of all global road and railway assets are exposed to at least one hazard, and that about 8% of all assets are exposed to a 1-in-100 year flood event. Road and rail networks are most exposed to surface flooding, followed by tropical cyclones, river flooding, and earthquakes. As exposure is driven by both the occurrence of hazards and the existence of assets, high-income countries with more transport infrastructure can be expected to be more exposed, with US, Japan and those in Europe specifically identified. Indeed, for surface flooding, richer countries with more assets are proportionally more exposed. However, for river and coastal flooding, high-income countries have fewer exposed kilometres because of the higher flood protection standards in these countries.

When expected annual damages are considering in relation to GDP, infrastructure value or infrastructure length, low and middle-income countries are often more severely affected. For example, in Small Island Developing States, annual damages relative to total infrastructure value are more than double the global average. Furthermore, when countries like Fiji already spend 30% of their government annual budget in maintaining their transport network, the bill becomes prohibitive when damages from natural hazards are added to this. In other words, for several countries and regions, investing in transport asset resilience should be a priority.

The study concludes by stating that adding resilience to transport planning, such as improved road design for better drainage and including flood barriers at planning stage, could reduce worldwide damages by up to 60% and save billions of dollars. With climate change likely to intensify the impacts of natural hazards on transport infrastructure, there has never been a more crucial time for countries to improve their transport planning by including physical climate risk information in their assessments.

Over recent years, Acclimatise has delivered a number of national-scale transport climate resilience projects, including in the Caribbean, Serbia and Tanzania. We have developed a number of robust analytical methodologies for undertaking climate change and natural hazard risk assessment for transport networks. Through the systematic identification of spatial ‘hotspots’ of risk, improvements can be targeted to the areas of most need, which will ultimately reduce infrastructure spend and better future-proof assets to prevent damage from natural hazards.

The full Nature Communications article is available here

If you would like to discuss our capabilities in the transport sector and analytical tools, please contact Bob Khosa

Cover photo by Ian Britton on Unsplash.
Arctic melt spurs geopolitical tensions

Arctic melt spurs geopolitical tensions

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

With the Arctic heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world, the borders its sea ice once protected are being left exposed. That so-called unpaid sentry is disappearing fast, giving way to not just new shipping routes but also security challenges countries in the region are reacting to.

Sea ice in the Arctic is being lost at a staggering rate of over 10,000 tonnes per second, by 2035 the region could be ice-free during summer. Speaking to The Guardian, Klaus Dodds, professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London, explained “The unique Arctic security architecture has shape and form that come from natural extremities. If the Arctic becomes just another ocean, this breaks down. It’s elemental.”

This is also the reason why military activity in the Arctic is increasing: the prospect of a completely open water body is cause for concern among countries that until recently relied on sea ice for securing their northern borders. However, it should be emphasised that an increase in military activity does not imply imminent conflict. Comparing the situation to that in the South China Sea – where nations compete not through combat but by demonstrating presence – former Norwegian defence minister Espen Barth Eide said “It’s not because there is an immediate threat, it’s that, as an area becomes more important, it’s natural to have a heightened military presence.”

With national security concerns also comes an increased sense of competition for the growing business interest in the region. The Northern Sea Route from Asia to Europe can save ships up to 20 days travel time as opposed to the Southern Sea Route (Suez Canal passage). Parts of the northern passage historically have only been ice-free for two months each year. However, as mentioned above, that is rapidly changing. Remote places like Tromsø in Norway are becoming bustling tourism and business hubs. “Now we have a historically strange situation with political and economic activity in the Arctic. So many people are knocking on our door, including business and state representatives from China, Pakistan, Singapore and Morocco,” said Tromsø mayor Kristin Røymo.

The receding ice is a massive game changer, especially for Russia. Not only does the country have the largest border in the Arctic region but must of the Northern Sea Route currently extends across Russia’s exclusive economic zone. As long as the ice doesn’t recede beyond that zone, Russia will get paid by anyone who uses that shipping route. But as sea ice recedes further, ships will be able to travel in international waters. China, an observing member of the Arctic Council since 2013, is one of the countries exploring this possibility and the potential for infrastructure investments in a “Polar Silk Road”, threatening the exclusive position Russia has been in historically.

In addition to the growing interest in the Arctic for its shorter shipping routes, oil & gas companies are sniffing their chance at exploring new oil and gas fields. Norway came under fire earlier this year for having approved over 80 new exploration licenses. At the Arctic Frontiers conference in January, environmentalists highlighted the dual role of oil as both a driver of climate change, which is heavily impacting the Arctic, and as a driver of increasing resource extraction in one of the most fragile and pristine environments on this planet. These tensions and the growing competition are also putting into question peaceful cross-border cooperation efforts that held up even during the cold war and regulated fishing, scientific research and even reindeer herding.

Cover photo by Menglong Bao on Unsplash
Climate-sensitive ‘chokepoints’ threaten global food trade

Climate-sensitive ‘chokepoints’ threaten global food trade

By Gracie Pearsall

A recent report published by the UK think-tank, Chatham House, has identified 14 critical locations that, while integral to global food trade, are also extremely at risk to the effects of climate change. The report dubs these locations “chokepoints,” and analyzes how disruptions from climate change could impact the food security of millions of people.

All 14 chokepoints are junctions on the global food transport system. The chokepoints encompass areas such as maritime corridors, ports, and inland transport infrastructure. The global food trade relies heavily on these chokepoints. For example, more than half the world’s staple crops (wheat, maize, rice, soybean) and fertilizers pass through at least one of the maritime chokepoints identified.

Increasing chokepoint risks

These chokepoints are exposed to distinct risks and hazards. Weather events, such as flooding and drought, regularly reduce efficiency, and damage infrastructure. Security, conflicts, and political dynamics can also disrupt trade at these chokepoints. Additionally, chokepoints face institutional risks if authorities choose to close a port, or restrict exports and imports. All but one of the identified chokepoints have been closed or severely interrupted at least once in the last 15 years. This report found that closings and interruptions such as these will occur more frequently as chokepoints risks increase.

Aside from climate change, two trends are increasing the chokepoint risks. First, dependency on chokepoints is growing. For example, in 2000, only six percent of crops and fertilizers relied on one of the maritime chokepoints as the only viable transit route. Now, this figure has risen to ten percent. This dependency increases risks because it concentrates a major amount of crops and fertilizers in a small number of vulnerable locations.

Second, there is chronic underinvestment in the infrastructure at these chokepoints. Inadequate infrastructure leaves these locations ill-prepared to handle the growing volume of trade, and also limits the infrastructure’s capacity to become resilient to the changing climate. For example, frequent heavy rains often render Brazil’s muddy roadways impassable.  Likewise, US waterways and Gulf ports are old and congested, making them especially vulnerable to flooding, droughts, and hurricanes. Countries that rely on food imports, such as those in North Africa and the Middle East, will become especially vulnerable as weather hazards intensify and as the international food trade grows

Climate-related risks

The Chatham House report identifies climate change as the biggest risk to chokepoints. Climate change will act as a “hazard multiplier,” by amplifying the effects of all the afore-mentioned risks. Moreover, climate change will bring risks of its own. Climate change will increase the frequency of extreme and severe weather events, such as floods, droughts, heavy rainfall, and heatwaves, which will block chokepoints and harm infrastructure. For example, flooding hit US waterways in 2016, which completely stopped transit. During a 2015 heatwave, major US rail lines kinked and derailed several trains and stopped transit.

Slow on-set climate consequence further threatens chokepoint infrastructure. For example, sea level rise poses a huge risk to maritime corridors and ports, and will require significant adaptation responses. Furthermore, climate change acts as a driver of instability because climate-related stress exacerbates social and political climates, and fuels armed conflicts.

Dealing with the at-risk chokepoints

An example of a country successfully minimizing chokepoint risks is China. It imports a lot of food, but it has diversified supply routes. Although 87% of China’s grain imports travel through maritime chokepoints, only four percent move through chokepoints with no alternative routes. Chinese companies have also built railroads in South America as an alternative route to the Panama Canal (one of the 14 chokepoints). China’s actions epitomize the report’s recommended approach to handling increasing chokepoint risks.

In conclusion, the Chatham House report emphasizes the need to mitigate damage by investing in infrastructure at these chokepoints, and adapting to the risks by lessening reliance on the checkpoints. The report also advises governments and businesses to integrate chokepoint analysis into risk management planning, and create a “supply-sharing” network and plan, in case of chokepoint failure and trade emergency.

Cover photo: Maritime, coastal and inland chokepoints and major shipping routes identified in the report. Source: Chatham House.
Podcast: Climate adaptation and European ports: Isabelle Ryckbost

Podcast: Climate adaptation and European ports: Isabelle Ryckbost

By Will Bugler

Ports are vital hubs in global trade networks, linking all of the goods transported by sea with land-based industry and consumers. They are also vulnerable to climate change and its impacts. To find out how ports in Europe are responding to climate change Acclimatise spoke with Isabelle Ryckbost, Secretary General of the European Sea Ports Organisation. Speaking in the wake of her keynote speech at the recent NavClimate conference, Isabelle explains that climate risks to physical port infrastructure are only part of the story when it comes to building the climate resilience of European ports.

Listen now:


Cover photo by  Rik Schuiling / TropCrop-TCS / Archive CC by 3.0
Surface water flooding, not sea level rise the main vulnerability for many ports

Surface water flooding, not sea level rise the main vulnerability for many ports

By Jim Hight

Editor’s note: This post was adapted from an article that first appeared in the Climate Change Business Journal.

Many seaports will have to invest significant resources to assess their climate-related vulnerabilities and develop adaptation strategies in the coming decades. But the sheer variety of port settings and configurations means that this common challenge will require individually tailored solutions.

“Every port is different,” said Heather Wood, Ports Market Sector leader for environmental consulting and engineering firm Kennedy Jenks. “They all do the same things, but they’re located in very different places, with different climates, different environmental concerns.”

“Some are smack in the middle of communities that have grown around them while some are in industrial areas with few neighbors,” said Wood. “Some are inland, some are close to the ocean. Some have issues with subsidence like New Orleans and Hampton Roads.”

A port’s most obvious vulnerability would at first glance appear to be sea level rise (SLR). But while SLR and the associated higher storm surges have the potential to overtop wharves and piers, reduce the clearance between ships and bridges and create other impacts—flooding from more intense precipitation is a greater threat to many ports.

“Ports are already prepared for hurricanes and northeasters, and they know when they have to shut down,” said Wood. “It’s the localized flooding that can occur in the middle of operations that could short out a system and disable their increasingly automated systems of sensors, cameras and wireless infrastructure.”

In a study of climate change vulnerabilities for the Port of Manzanillo—Mexico’s largest and fastest growing container port—Acclimatise and Worley Parsons Advisian identified surface water flooding as a more significant near-term problem than SLR. Like many ports, it sits at the bottom of a catchment basin where it receives runoff from the surrounding city. Soil erosion combined with garbage collecting in the drainage system are “already causing disruptions that are likely to increase with very heavy rainfall events associated with climate change,” said Richenda Connell, CTO of Acclimatise.

Without new measures to mitigate flooding, disruptions at Manzanillo from more intense precipitation could double by 2050, leading to higher maintenance costs and more downtime. As part of their report, the consultants provided a cost-benefit analysis of adaptation actions (see chart) to give port authorities and private terminal operators a menu of their options.

SLR figures into long-term planning

Of course, sea level rise must be factored into ports’ long-term planning. “What I see routinely is that when ports are planning for new infrastructure, most are taking climate change into consideration,” said Doug Daugherty, managing principal of technical and scientific consultancy Ramboll Environ. “Where potential issues come up is for the existing infrastructure.”

Some studies over the last 10 years illustrate the potentially enormous scale of the SLR challenge. A 2008 OECD study on vulnerable port cities by R. Nicholls and a 2011 article in Climatic Change by Nicholls and colleagues ranked the top 20 port cities for climate vulnerability.

Heavily populated, low-lying deltaic cities in South Asia rank at the top for vulnerability, with 37 million people expected to be exposed by 2070 in Kolkata, Mumbai and Dhaka. The top three in exposed asset value: Miami, Guangzhou and New York-Newark, where over $9 trillion in property will be at risk in 2070.

In December 2015, four Stanford University Civil and Environmental Engineering professors published a “Thought Exercise” to estimate the cost of elevating all U.S. ports to a new height based on regional 2070 projections for sea level rise and storm surge. Their estimates: $66 billion to $88 billion, plus 495 million cubic meters of fill, which would cost an estimated $30 billion for dredging, dozing and compaction. And those estimates excluded the costs of adapting buildings and infrastructure.

As the projections from Nicholls et al make clear, ports aren’t stand-alone infrastructure but gateways to cities, regions and countries. And port planning for climate change must be integrated with regional planning, especially for transportation. “Ports can’t function without the rails, trucks and the larger transport network to move freight and the workforce.,” said Wood. “While ports can plan for sea level rise, it’s imperative that other transporation modes do the same.”

Changing projections

Like all coastal governments and property owners, ports face great uncertainty in terms of how quickly sea levels will rise. For SLR projections in its 2011 MasterPlan 2035, the Port of Miami used estimates from the Climate Change Advisory Task Force established by the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, which in 2008 predicted a 1.5 foot rise by 2060. But Miami-Dade and other South Florida counties later updated these projections, estimating 2060 sea levels at 11 to 22 inches higher, 28 to 57 inches by 2100.

“The projections keep changing,” said Daugherty, noting recent scientific papers examining whether the Antarctic ice sheet is melting faster than currently predicted. “Other scientists are looking at the possibilities that when we get to certain higher temperature ranges we might lose the Antarctic and Greenland ice, which would put us geologically in similar conditions as a past interglacial period with its corresponding much higher sea levels than what is currently projected.”

So, what triggers a port owner to take climate change adaptation seriously and invest the relatively small sums needed for a climate vulnerability assessment?

Ramboll Environ has performed such assessments for California ports in the context of environmental impact reports (EIRs) prepared for port planning and capital projects. Although the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) does not require an analysis of the environment’s impact on a proposed project—an interpretation upheld by the state Supreme Court in December 2015—many local governments, including port authorities, choose to include an analysis of climate change impacts in their EIRs.

In developing countries, port climate change risks assessments are generally funded by multilateral development banks—and MDBs’ funding is typically triggered by contemplated investments in port expansions or upgrades, according to Connell, whose firm also also worked on a climate adaptation study for the Muelles del Bosque port in Cartagena, Colombia.

The Manzanillo project was funded by the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB), and the Cartagena project by the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

IDB and other MDBs like the World Bank and IFC “work very hard to use the lessons from these types of studies to spread the word more broadly through their communities,” said Connell. Connell expects port authorities and private terminal operators to eventually become more active in funding such studies in developing countries’ ports, especially those that are expanding.

Ports and large port users have also funded adaptation measures that benefit an entire community. As noted in The Business Case for Responsible Corporate Adaptation published by UNEP, CDP and others in 2015, Brazilian mining firm Vale invested $18.6 million in the Capixaba Hydrometeorological Monitoring Center in partnership with the Government of Espírito Santo. The sophisticated weather forecasting helps Vale and the community be more alert for extreme weather events.

Image: Costs & Benefits of Adaptation Measures, Port of Manzanillo. Source: Accliamtise, Worley Parsons Advisian.

A rapidly changing industry

Planning for climate change impacts, where it occurs, is taking place within an industry that is investing heavily in upgrading channels and infrastructure to accommodate super-sized “post-Panamax” container ships (so named because the Panama Canal is being upgraded to accommodate them).

Ports are competing to become Post-Panamax Ready. According to Panorama, the magazine of Colombian airline Copa, East Coast ports are dredging harbors and raising bridges to become PPR with the expectation that they’ll take market share from West Coast ports.

The Port of New York and New Jersey is investing $1.3 billion to raise the roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge that spans the Kill Van Kull strait between Staten Island and Bayonne, N.J., by 64 feet

With their port clients engaged in such large and fast-paced capital programs, it’s difficult for climate change consultants to get a seat at the table. According to Connell, the key is raising awareness within the ports and shipping industries.

“It’s like anything in the world of climate change adaptation,” said Connell. “The first step is building this broad-based awareness of whether it’s an issue. For ports, the role of organization like PIANC [World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure] in raising awareness is essential to get that first step in place.”

Acclimatise, Ramboll Environ and other firms are supporting PIANC to develop guidance on adaptation. Daugherty is serving as principal U.S. representative to PIANC’s permanent task group on climate change.

Connell says she and her colleagues view such work with industry associations as important for business development and for advancing the practice of climate change adaptation.

“We see that assisting industry associations as they seek to mobilize their members is a very important step in getting as broad a community of stakeholders as possible enlightened,” said Connell. “Acclimatise has also supported oil and gas industry associations in a similar vein.”


Jim Hight is Senior Editor of the Climate Change Business Journal. He has served as a Contributing Editor for both Environmental Business Journal and Nutrition Business Journal and as a Research Analyst for Environmental Business International since 1999. He has written extensively about finance, marketing and regulatory affairs in the environmental and nutrition industries. Jim has consulted since 1983 for a wide range of private companies, public agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Cover photo by Andy Liang (CC BY 2.0)
Protecting the Caribbean’s ports is essential for regional climate resilience

Protecting the Caribbean’s ports is essential for regional climate resilience

By Charlotte Strawson

Few nations are more reliant on ports than the small island states of the Caribbean. Island economies are highly dependent on the flow of goods and people and the Caribbean’s trade in energy, water, agricultural goods and its tourism industry all rely heavily on seaports. However, climate change increasingly threatens port infrastructure, and impacts such as sea level rise and coastal flooding can disrupt operations.

Sea level rise in the Caribbean has occurred at a rate of about 2 to 4 cm per decade over the past 30 years according to the Inter-American Development Bank. This trend is set to increase, and presents major risks to the region. Caribbean countries are already subjected to severe weather events such as hurricanes and floods, which could also become more intense as the atmosphere warms.

The Caribbean’s low-lying coastal regions are particularly vulnerable to impacts of climate change. Over 80% of the Bahamas, for instance, lies below 1.5m of the mean sea level. A study found that the land surrounding 35 out of 44 Caribbean ports will be inundated by 1m of sea level rise, if no coastal protection structures are put into place (Simpson et al, 2010). Climate change adaptation for ports in the Caribbean is, therefore, of great importance.

Size matters

The risks associated with rising sea levels and flooding have been assessed in other parts of the world, especially at larger ports in Australia and North America. However, there are far fewer studies on the impacts of climate change for smaller ports. In the Caribbean small ports act as hubs for coastal settlements, with a large proportion of the regional population residing in the surrounding areas. It is essential for these settlements to be considered in adaptation strategies, and for further research to be undertaken onto the impacts of climate change on networks of smaller ports and marinas.

Furthermore, these small ports are often hot spots for the cruise industry. The Caribbean’s sea, sand and sun attracted over 10,000,000 cruise passengers in the first half of 2015 alone, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. If sea levels rise as predicted, the disruption to this industry alone would be severely detrimental to Caribbean economies that are highly dependent on tourism.

Trading nations

Most Caribbean countries have open economies that rely on international imports for food, manufactured goods, transportation and fisheries. Exports are also crucial for the region, for example Trinidad and Tobago exported $11 billion of goods and resources in 2015, with the top export being petroleum gas. Intra-regional trade is also vital, in the period 2010-2014 the value of imports among the Caribbean Community averaged at $3.1 billion, while exports averaged at $2.9 billion (CARICOM, 2016). The majority of these exchanges and trade linkages rely on ports, as air travel is too expensive. Protecting ports from climate extremes is crucial to maintain economic prosperity in the region.

Climate risks to ports are diverse and include both direct impacts to port infrastructure and indirect impacts to supply chains. A 2011 report from the International Finance Corporation (IFC),  gives a detailed risk assessment of the Muelles el Bosque in Columbia. It shows how climate change might impact on vehicle movements inside the port, trade imports and exports, flood risks to storage areas, refrigeration costs due to rising temperatures and impacts on grain storage.

The region’s policymakers increasingly recognise climate risks to Caribbean ports, and the need to prioritise climate adaptation and building resilience. The redesign and modification of ports to minimise the disruption caused by flooding, storm surges and sea-level rise has been prioritised. In 2015 the UK government announced a £300 million fund for Caribbean infrastructure, seeing investments in roads, ports and sea defences. Other adaptationactions emerging include upgraded storage facilities that can withstand more severe extreme weather events and investment in cranes that operate safely under stronger winds.

The Caribbean is a region that is highly dependent on ports for both trade and tourism. Rising sea levels and severe weather events therefore have the potential to cause significant damage to the regional economy and threaten the region’s development goals. Taking early action to adapt to climate impacts is therefore essential to sustain economic growth and prosperity for Caribbean countries.


Charlotte Strawson is a final-year Geography student at Newcastle University. Charlotte has a keen interest in climate change adaptation and sustainable development and has recently completed her dissertation project which focussed on planning consent for offshore wind turbines.



Cover photo by Roger W (CC by 3.0)
Stockholm airport simulator brings the world’s weather to Sweden

Stockholm airport simulator brings the world’s weather to Sweden

How far would you travel to feel the sun’s warmth in the winter months? Well the people of Stockholm (where the winters can get a little nippy) may only need to go as far as the city’s airport. Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, has developed a simulator that, by ‘using the latest sound and image technology’ and temperature simulations, can recreate the climate at many popular travel destinations. Pack your shorts, and stay at home!

Cover photo by Andreas Trepte (CC by 2.5)
Investors warn car industry over climate risk

Investors warn car industry over climate risk

By Terry Macalister

Major investors have warned the automotive industry it needs to accelerate its readiness for a low-carbon world if it is to retain their support and prosper.

Vehicle makers must put climate change specialists on their boards, engage better with policy-makers, and invest more heavily in low-emission cars, says a network of 250 global investors with assets of more than $24trillion.

The demands come in a new report, Investor Expectations of Automotive Companies, published this week by the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC).

“Long-term investors want to ensure that automotive companies are prepared for the challenges stemming from climate change, new technologies, changing policies and shifts in demand caused by global trends,” says Dr Hans-Christoph Hirt, co-head of investment house Hermes EOS, a member of the IGCC.

“Investors expect the industry to embark upon a smoother route to future prosperity by developing and implementing long-term business strategies that are resilient to climate change and resulting regulatory shifts.”

Sustainable returns

Chris Davis, senior programme director of the Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk, another IIGCC member, agrees. “A growing number of institutional investors recognise that climate change will impact their holdings, portfolios, and asset values in the short and long-term,” he says.

“To achieve sustainable returns for clients and beneficiaries, investors in the automotive sector must engage to ensure companies are prepared to thrive in a carbon-constrained environment and support robust policy action sufficient to drive the transition to clean vehicles.”

The traditional car industry has gradually been increasing its output of pure electric and hybrid diesel/electric models, but in small numbers. It has failed to shrug off its image as a foot-dragger in the fight against climate change – similar to the way most big oil companies are seen.

The recent Volkswagen emissions scandal, in which the German car manufacturer used “cheat devices” that underplayed pollution on its cars, has further tarnished the industry’s image over the last 12 months. And critics have long claimed that few vehicles live up to the fuel consumption levels claimed of them.

Making sure the industry has “closed the gap between real world and emissions testing” is highlighted by the IIGCC as one of the key issue that must be fixed.

But the finance houses also want car and truck makers to set more meaningful targets and metrics to reduce greenhouse gases in their own supply chain. And car companies need to engage more meaningfully with international policy-makers and their own investors on climate change.

Big investors point out that large car companies face serious threats inside their own sector from innovators such as the California-based automaker Tesla, evangelists for climate change and producers of low-carbon electric vehicles.

Climate agreement

And the finance houses say the move towards driverless vehicles, being pioneered by the likes of Google, poses a threat of even more severe potential new competition for the traditional car firms.

Last year’s Paris climate change agreement has increased the urgency for the big manufacturers such as Ford, VW and Toyota to move more quickly, the report warns.

They point to a recent study by the Moody’s credit agency that highlighted the potential dangers of tighter regulations for vehicles.

And the new IIGCC report warns that the automotive industry is already exposed to “a plethora of CO2 and pollutant emission reduction targets in all major markets”.

It says that tougher vehicle standards have already been implemented or are on their way in Australia, Brazil, China and India, as well as the US and Europe.

And it stresses that governments are increasingly incentivising the use of electric vehicles in countries such as Norway and Holland.

Cover photo by (CC by 2.0)