Transport Infrastructure Should Brace for Climate Change

Transport Infrastructure Should Brace for Climate Change

Impacts of climate change—including more intense droughts and floods, heat waves, thawing permafrost, and sea-level rise—could damage transport infrastructure such as roads, railways, and ports, requiring extensive adaptation and changes to route planning in some regions, according to the findings of a new report published jointly by BSR and the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Cambridge Judge Business School.

The report looks at opportunities for building climate resilience (through land infrastructure, rail systems, inland waterways, and coastal adaptation) and for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions (through modal shifts, demand reduction, vehicle efficiency, reduction in carbon intensity, and policy intervention).

“The report examines the impacts of climate change and considerations by sector of the industry: road, rail, air, and ocean transport”

The report, one in a 13-part series that translates the IPCC assessments for business leaders, reveals that the transport sector accounts for about a quarter of global energy-related carbon emissions—and without aggressive and sustained policy intervention, direct transport carbon emissions could double by 2050.

According to the report, more frequent droughts and floods may force businesses to use smaller vessels for inland shipping, for example along the Rhine in Germany or across the Great Lakes in North America, which will raise shipping costs.

Some inland waterways are projected to be useable for fewer days each year because of more intermittent water availability. On the ocean, a projected increase in storms in some regions could raise the cost of shipping by forcing ships to take longer routes that are less storm-prone, and may increase maintenance of ships and ports.

More frequent delays and cancellations of ferries could result from extreme weather events.

However, the Arctic Ocean is projected to become progressively more accessible to shipping in summer as sea-ice extent decreases, with a virtually ice-free ocean likely by mid-century.

This will allow routine use of the Northwest Passage, the Northern Sea Route and other routes, and increase maritime access to coasts in northern Canada, Alaska (the United States), Russia and Greenland.

However, the increase in shipping through these sensitive ecosystems could lead to an increase in local environmental and climate change impacts.

“This report is very valuable for understanding the challenges and opportunities that climate change will pose for the transport sector,” said Ian Ellison, Sustainability Manager for Jaguar Land Rover. “Climate change requires a rethink of how we approach parts of the transport system, but new technologies, infrastructure, and modal shifts will offer a way forward that can also deliver new economic and business opportunities. Having clear information on hand is crucial for business leaders to prepare for this transformation.”

“The transport sector relies overwhelmingly on oil,” said Angie Farrag-Thibault, one of the report’s lead authors and BSR’s Associate Director, Transport and Logistics. “Without action, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation will continue to rise. Fortunately, this report points to a large number of options for reducing emissions.”

Full report is available here.

Press Release, July 31, 2014

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