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Workshop - Consideration of physical climate change risks in transport planning and operational processes

26 March 2021 13:00 - 17:00
Geneva Switzerland
  • Geneva and ONLINE

The UNECE Group of Experts on assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation for inland transport seeks to develop guidance which would respond to the needs of transport professionals and are thus demand-driven. It organized this workshop to consult transport professionals on their needs for support and guidance in integrating climate change considerations into transport planning and operational processes. Read the background information here.

The workshop focused on discussing:

(a)    Policies, regulations and standards in support of integrating consideration of physical climate change risks into transport planning and operations,
(b)    Obstacles for integration of climate change considerations in transport, and 
(c)    Areas in which guidance or assistance is required to help effective consideration of physical climate change risk into transport planning and operations.


I. Opening and introduction to the workshop


  • Dr. Stephanie Hänsel, Chair, UNECE Group of Experts on assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation for inland transport, Manager, Deutscher Wetterdienst, Germany
  • Ms. Elizabeth Smalley, Vice-Chair, UNECE Group of Experts on assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation for inland transport, Manager, Adaptation Policy, Transport Canada

Setting the scene - Why consideration of physical climate change risks is important in transport planning and operational processes:

  • Dr. Stephanie Hänsel,
  • Ms. Elizabeth Smalley,
  • Prof Adonis Velegrakis, University of Aegean, Greece
II. Policies, regulations and standards in support of integrating consideration of physical climate change risks into transport planning and operations

Introduction and moderation – Ms. Regina Asariotis, Chief, Policy and Legislation Section, Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD [presentation]


EU policy on Climate Change and resilient transport infrastructure [presentation]

Key outcomes from the discussion:

  • Regional, national and/or sub-national climate adaptation strategies and plans are the basis for effective work on adaptation of transport systems to climate change and for making them climate resilient. An important recent development at the EU level includes the proposed EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change.  
  • Strategies need to be underpinned by an appropriate legal/regulatory framework. At the same time, it is important that legal and regulatory approaches do not inadvertently foster ‘maladaptation’ that may limit or lock-in future adaptation options. Relevant international legal instruments that may facilitate climate change adaptation for transport include, among others:
    • 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); 
    • 2015 Paris Agreement;
    • 1998 Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters;
    • 1991 Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in a Transboundary Context and 2003 Protocol on Strategic EIA; and
    • 2008 Protocol to the Barcelona Convention on Integrated Coastal Zone Management.
  • Relevant legal and regulatory instruments at the European Union level, including among others, the Flood Risk Directive (2007/60/EC) and EIA Directive (2014/52/EU), underpin the legal framework of its Member States. These instruments may also serve as a reference source for other countries. Proposals for a Regulation on an EU Climate Law and a Directive on Resilience of Critical Entities specifically address climate change impacts and adaptation for transport are currently under consideration. 
  • Various standards and guidelines for adaptation and resilience building are available and should be used, as appropriate:
  • Research and development and more innovation for climate resilient transport is needed – policies and approaches should support research and development, as well as effective climate risk-assessment and innovative technical adaptation responses. For example, in the rail sector, consideration has been given towards building digital infrastructure to build a more adaptive and resilient rail network. Performance-based regulations could be useful.
  • Transport planning and design should incorporate climate change impact and risk-assessment. As appropriate, national legislation should be put in place to make this a requirement. Building and engineering standards also play an important role in implementing adaptation measures and building resilience and need to be updated and further developed in line with conditions under a changing climate.
III. Obstacles including lack of awareness, knowledge and budget for integration of climate change considerations in transport

Introduction and moderation – Mr. Maurice Harnett, Deputy Head of Unit - Climate Adaptation, Department of Transport, Ireland [presentation]


Key outcomes from the discussion:

  • Awareness and knowledge in adaptation of transport to climate change are lacking at many levels, which is a considerable obstacle. Relevant concerns relate to:
    • Understanding of future detailed projections and associated uncertainties, including which RCP scenario(s) to choose;
    • How to incorporate climate change considerations into engineering design;
    • Assessment of transport asset in terms of its criticality; and 
    • Assessment of vulnerability and conditions under which critical assets would be vulnerable to climate change.

Knowledge needs to be established and shared, awareness needs to be raised. In particular, political support to the work on identifying and creating inventories of critical networks and eliminating vulnerabilities along these networks is important. Business cases should be elaborated to show that transport adaptation pays off. 

  • Lack of cooperation and effective communication within the transport sector (e.g. including consideration of broader system risks and interdependencies versus climate risks to individual assets) and with other sectors undermines building transportation system resilience. Development of coherent approaches to using climate projections and systemic cooperation should be explored. Collaboration models should be established and promoted – e.g. lead role model, where a lead entity (e.g. port owner) takes a coordinating role with different asset owners and operators in assessing climate risks and identifying potential solutions (e.g. with rail network providers or other port hinterland infrastructure providers);  National inventories should be established on critical and vulnerable assets and adaptation policies. Robust risk assessments should be adopted and promoted for adequate use.   
  • There are challenges in developing business cases for adaptation (e.g. discount rates, prioritization of greenhouse gas reduction efforts, different asset owners/operators). It is important to demonstrate the costs of inaction and that climate risks are business risks. Cost/benefit analysis should incorporate avoided economic losses associated with impacts. There are many social and environmental costs and benefits to also be considered (e.g. access to hospitals, environmental degradation) 
  • Models/matrixes could be elaborated to quantify unavailability of infrastructure service at vulnerable sections under different climate scenarios. Approaches for infrastructure service delivery rather than simple infrastructure delivery should be established – in this way infrastructure managers responsible for service delivery would be more interested in delivering uninterrupted service, and so better address climate change risks.
  • Adaptation is rarely disaggregated from maintenance costs in operators’ budgets. This lack of a specific budget creates issues for operators. Additionally, operators sometimes struggle to prepare business cases for adaptation and would appreciate some guidance in this regard. The introduction of the EU Taxonomy for Adaptation will help EU Member States. 
  • Adaptation can be difficult to quantify for policy makers and operators, making it more difficult for them to justify or push for adaptation policies. 
  • Language and interoperability barriers have been identified as issues between states. There’s also a lack of systematic cooperation between states. 
  • Adaptation policies may be hampered by sectoral carbon budgets. If so, infrastructure adaptation construction projects should not be stopped by carbon emission reduction policies. Instead carbon offset projects should be developed and managed.
IV. Areas in which guidance or assistance is required to help effective consideration of physical climate change risk into transport planning and operations

Introduction and moderation – Mr. Clemens Haße, KomPass - Competence Center, Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Federal Environment Agency, Germany [presentation]


Key outcomes from the discussion:

  • Six steps for the process of adaptation are acknowledged: 
    • Preparing the ground for adaptation
    • Assessing climate change risks and vulnerabilities
    • Identifying adaptation options
    • Assessing adaptation options
    • Implementing adaptation
    • Monitoring and evaluating adaptation
  • Guidance is needed in all of these steps, in particular guidance should help to:
    • Create adaptation business cases and provide tools for doing so including the triple bottom line accounting framework (monetarizing benefits to society and environment as appropriate);
    • Access risk assessment tools and understand their suitability;
    • Clarify timeframes; 
    • Clarify how to move from risk assessment to the identification of adaptation options;
    • Explain how to make use of asset management cycles for implementation of adaptation measures; and
    • Inform how to monetize prevention of losses (disruption costs) from the implementation of adaptation options.
  • Guidance is more useful if supported by examples of implementation and good practice. A handbook with guidance and good practice examples would be useful.
V. Conclusions and closure


Moderation – Mr Piet de Wildt, Senior Advisor, Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Netherlands 

Please see for conclusions the key outcomes listed under the session II-IV or download the following doc {pdf with the key outcomes}

Closure – Dr Stephanie Hänsel


Transport infrastructure (roads, railways, waterways, terminals, airports and ports) and operations are instrumental to safe, efficient and reliable movements of people to their destinations and goods to markets. Due to its function, transport plays a significant role in supporting local, regional or national development. If transport cannot provide its function, adverse economic and social effects can be experienced.

Authorities, together with infrastructure owners and managers, play an important role through planning, investment, operational, as well as legislative processes in ensuring current and future seamless movement of people and goods. They work on, for example, infrastructure and its connectivity, interoperability standards, corridors management, harmonization and simplification of border-crossing formalities and administrative formalities and application of new technologies and digitalization.

The task of ensuring seamless current and future transport is a challenging one. There is a huge range of components or influences that need to be assessed and addressed, especially in the planning phase, and in particular for infrastructure, whose lifespan may reach 30 to 50 years, or longer, and during this time it should continue to serve its planned function.

There is a growing need to consider the physical risks arising from climate change in infrastructure planning and operations. Experience shows that extreme weather events due to climate change, slower onset climate changes (such as sea level rise or permafrost thaw) and cumulative effects may cause transport infrastructure damage and premature degradation, disruption to operations and pressure on supply chain capacity and efficiency. In the light of latest projections on climate change and given the planning horizons and lifespans of transport infrastructure, the need for adaptation and resilience-building is becoming increasingly urgent. Moreover, consideration of the impacts of climate change on planned infrastructure projects may also be required under applicable law on environmental impacts assessment (such as under the amended EIA Directive (Directive 2014/52/EU).

At the same time, to be effective in integrating climate change adaptation in transport planning and operations, authorities, infrastructure managers and owners need to have in place policies, regulations and standards that enable, guide and support their work. Conversely, inappropriate policies, standards, or regulations but also lack of guidance may prevent the authorities and infrastructure owners/managers from effectively integrating climate change adaptation considerations in their investment or operational processes in transport; and/or inadvertently lead to maladaptation.

The UNECE Group of Experts on assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation for inland transport recognises the challenging role of authorities, infrastructure owners/managers, and more generally transport professionals, in integrating various considerations, and in particular the climate change adaptation considerations, in transport assets and systems’ planning and operational processes. The Group of Experts wishes to support transport professionals in the effective integration of climate change adaptation considerations in their work. To this end, the Group of Experts under its current 2020-2025 mandate is working on elaboration of guidance for integrating climate change adaptation considerations in planning and operational processes in transport.

The recommendation to develop this guidance was formulated by the Group of Experts on climate change impacts and adaptation for transport network and nodes (former Group of Experts) under its 2015-2019 mandate. The results of work of the former Group of Experts, including elements for consideration of climate change adaptation in transport systems, are published in the Group’s report available here.   

The objective for the current Group of Experts is to develop guidance which would respond to the needs of transport professionals and are thus demand-driven. It is for this purpose that the Group of Experts wishes to consult transport professionals on their needs via a consultation workshop.