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OPINION: Climate change and transport sector in Colombia (I)

Also posted in Spanish

CDKN has engaged with the Ministry of Transport of Colombia to mainstream climate change into the transport sector, emphasizing the importance of adopting long-term policies and measures to address the climate challenges that face the road infrastructure and the transport systems.

Since February of 2013, ICF, an international consulting firm, has started an 18 month-project financed by CDKN which seek to develop a Technical Manual and an Adaptation Plan for the Transport sector, centered on the Colombian primary road system.

Today, CDKN publishes the first part of the interview with Michael Savonis (*), the Head of the ICF project carried out by CDKN Colombia in February when the ICF team visited Colombia to launch the project.

by CDKN Colombia

Q1: What is ICF? How would you describe its main activities and services and why did you choose to work on Climate Change issues within the corporation?

Since 1969, ICF has been serving governments at all levels, major corporations, and multilateral institutions. More than 4,500 employees serve these clients from over 50 offices worldwide. Climate change is one of ICF’s 12 market areas. Within each of our markets, ICF offers advisory and implementation services to assist clients in strategy and policy analysis, program management, project evaluation, and other services.

ICF International’s climate change practice helps public- and private-sector clients worldwide in both mitigation (i.e. reducing greenhouse gases) and adaptation to the harmful effects of a changing climate.  We assist our clients to develop effective climate change policies, interpret and comply with regulations, evaluate risks, and identify opportunities. Our climate specialists assist national, regional, and international agencies with:

  • Climate change vulnerability assessment.
  • Adaptation planning.
  • Providing technical assistance for projects implementation.
  • Offering guidance on cap and trade programs, voluntary programs, greenhouse gas mitigation strategies, and sector-based mechanisms.

Q2: What is the experience of ICF in linking Adaptation to Infrastructure? 

ICF works with our clients around the globe to evaluate climate change impacts, develop adaptation strategies, promote climate-resilient decision-making, and build capacity to manage climate risks. We leverage our experience and knowledge gained from years of pioneering work with U.S. federal agencies to apply state-of-the-art adaptation practices.  Our clients include multinational companies and organizations, federal, state and local agencies, and international funding institutions.  We have provided assistance with? all forms of infrastructure, especially in transportation and energy.

Our adaptation services include:

  • Evaluating climate change impacts on ecosystems, economic systems, human health, and infrastructure-based services.
  • Developing decision-support frameworks for addressing climate risks
  • Assessing climate vulnerabilities, risks, and opportunities
  • Evaluating adaptation options
  • Mainstreaming climate risk management into existing activities
  • Engaging stakeholders through pilot programs, workshops, and outreach

We have decades of experience applying adaptation strategies to the infrastructure sector.  For example:

  • ICF developed the first U.S. federal agency adaptation framework—for the Federal Highway Administration—and provided technical assistance to the state and local transportation adaptation pilot programs.
  • ICF is performing an extensive multimodal vulnerability assessment of climate risks to transportation assets and services on behalf of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Focused on the metropolitan area of Mobile, Alabama, the study is expressly designed to enable transferability of tools and approaches to counties across the United States. This is the largest federally funded adaptation project in a single metropolitan location.
  • ICF developed the most spatially detailed analysis to-date of the potential economic costs of climate change on the US electricity industry.
  • Globally, ICF supports the U.S. Agency for International Development in providing technical assistance and analysis for agency bureaus, field missions, and partner practitioners to implement climate change adaptation programs. Part of this support is leading an exciting new project entitled “Climate Resilient Infrastructure Services.”
  • We have led innovative assessment and adaptation projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, covering every major sector, for private firms and development organizations such as the Canadian International Development Agency, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank.

Q3: Broadly speaking, how does climate change affect infrastructure, especially roads? 

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and magnitude of certain extreme weather events, such as heat waves, hurricanes, dust storms, and heavy rain. Sea level rise is exacerbating the effects of coastal storms. These hazards pose a variety of serious risks to transportation systems. Not only do these events physically damage assets, they affect network service and performance. Risks related to climate change can be short‐term and severe (such as the emergency conditions experienced during a hurricane), or long‐term and incremental (such as degradation caused by repeated heat events).  Secondary effects include landslides resulting in destabilized land masses. A seminal report published by the Transportation Research Board (Special Report 290) concluded,

“Climate change will affect transportation primarily through increases in several types of weather and climate extremes such as very hot days; intense precipitation events; intense hurricanes; drought; and rising sea levels, coupled with storm surges and land subsidence. The impacts will vary by mode of transportation and region of the country, but they will be widespread and costly in both human and economic terms and will require significant changes in the planning design, construction, operation, and maintenance of transportation systems.”

Climate change will affect roadways in multiple ways depending on local conditions. For example, more intense storms will lead to flooding and disrupt traffic, delay construction, and wash out soil and storm water drainage systems. Road infrastructure on the coast may be exposed to more frequent and permanent flooding from sea level rise and storm surges, which can damage the infrastructure.  Higher temperatures can cause pavement to soften and expand, resulting in rutting and potholes in high-traffic areas. Construction activities are often limited during very hot days. These impacts could increase the cost of building and maintaining roads and highways. On the other hand, reduced snowfall and less-frequent winter storms in some areas may result in cost savings.

Q4: What is at stake when dealing with adaptation in relation to road infrastructure? 

Road infrastructure is engineered to withstand the historical range of weather variability. However, historical climate is no longer an accurate guide to the future. In the absence of adaptation, roads will experience physical damage and degradation as well as interruptions in service and operations.  When people cannot get to their jobs, or goods and services are not transported to their final destinations, there are societal impacts such as lowering economic development and degrading quality of life.  In the worst cases, emergency situations following tropical storms, for example, can result in health impacts and loss of life.  Effective adaptation measures are needed in order to ensure the safe and cost-efficient transport of emergency services, people, and goods on road infrastructure.

CDKN will publish the second and final part of the interview next week.

(*) Mike Savonis, currently a Fellow at ICF International, is an internationally-recognized expert on adapting transportation systems to climate change.  He has worked with the UN, OECD, and USAID. He was recently a lead author on 2 reports on infrastructure adaptation for the 2013 National Climate Assessment.  Mike served as Senior Policy Advisor and in other capacities for 19 years at the Federal Highway Administration. He was a contributing author to Global Climate Change Impacts in the US for the Executive Office of the President and led development of the Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.7, Gulf Coast Study for USGCRP. Mike helped spearhead establishment of the US DOT Center on Climate Change and pioneered the study of impacts and adaptation there.

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