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OPINION: Climate change and transport sector in Colombia, interview with Michael Savonis (Part II)

Also posted in Spanish

Last week, CDKN published the first part of the interview with Michael Sanovis, the Head of the project “Mainstreaming Climate Change into the Colombia Transport Sector”. Michael Sanovis presented ICF, its experience in linking Climate Change to road infrastructure and the challenges that face the road system which is every time more under climate stress.

Today we publish the final part of the interview. 

By CDKN Colombia

What does the CDKN Project “Mainstreaming Climate Change into the Colombian Transport Sector” consist of? What are the main outcomes and output that will be delivered in order to address that challenge through the project?

CDKN’s new project, taking place over an 18 month period starting at the beginning of 2013, aims to develop a greater understanding of climate change in Colombia and its impacts on transport systems, and to incorporate findings into the country’s transport planning and development. The project recognises that consideration of climate effects must be “mainstreamed;” that is, integrated into all facets of transport development on an ongoing basis.  There is no quick fix to making transport networks more resilient against the impacts of climate change.

The overarching goals of the project are to (1) identify likely changes in climate the country’s regions can expect through the 21st century, (2) identify the potential impacts to transport infrastructure in each of the country’s unique regions, (3) develop guidance for incorporating climate change into transport planning and construction, and (4) disseminate information to decision-makers.  Key products will be an issues paper to characterise needs and impacts, three interactive workshops with decision-makers, a manual for incorporating climate change considerations into transport planning, and a climate change adaptation plan for the transport sector.

Why does this project represent an opportunity for the public and private sector in Colombia? 

With Colombia’s ambitious programmes to significantly expand the country’s transport infrastructure, it is an excellent opportunity to make sure that the investment will be resilient to future climate change.  Reliable transport infrastructure that efficiently transports people and freight is critical for Colombia’s economy.  Failure to address the likely disruptions to transport services due to climate change will significantly hamper the growth of the Colombian economy, as it did during the heavy rains of 2010.

The private sector is most hurt by travel disruptions when goods cannot reach the port or other destinations.  Getting ahead of that curve also represents a great opportunity for the public sector to reduce reconstruction, repair, and maintenance costs from landslides, which greatly affect budgets.  This project also provides an opportunity for Colombia to showcase a thoughtful and progressive approach on climate change to other countries around the world.

Why prioritise the Colombian Primary Road System?

Most of Colombia’s travel demand is met by the road system – only a small portion is carried by rail or water transport.  That travel demand, especially transporting Colombia’s main exports of coal, crude oil, coffee and metals, is crucial to the economy.  That means the primary road system, which carries the lion’s share of the travel demand on Colombia’s roads, is just as crucial to the economy, and maintaining it in good working order and enhancing its resiliency to climate change must be a priority.  At the same time, Colombia is currently investing heavily in expanding the country’s transport systems. In order to secure the investment, it will be necessary that the infrastructure can withstand current stresses in the form of intense precipitation and extreme heat as well as future changes in climate.

What makes CDKN’s project, “Mainstreaming Climate Change into the Colombian Transport Sector” attractive? 

This project is very exciting.  Its goals are quite forward-thinking, recognising that the climate change challenge is long term and requires a change in the way we do business.  Recognition of the impacts of climate change on transport and on society is, as one key U.S. government leader called it, a “game-changer.”  It requires the full incorporation of climate change in all aspects of transport planning, development, and operations.   The project’s goal to mainstream these considerations is perfectly targeted.  Its tactics to raise awareness of climate impacts on transport among decision makers and the transport community, incorporate them in procurement policies for concessionaires, and develop an adaptation plan that can be implemented over time are well thought out and will yield results in more reliable service for many years. It provides an opportunity to make a significant impact on economic growth and stability and will also provide a model for other countries’ future transport policy development.

Are there other experiences in the world for adapting road infrastructure to climate change?  

The consideration of the impacts of climate change on road transport has been growing since about 2008.  Several countries have had significant efforts to assess vulnerability and begin the process of adaptation planning for their road networks, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and others.  In the state of California, for example, the department of transportation is required to assess sea level rise in all new road designs.  In the U.K., new pavement standards have been implemented to withstand higher temperatures.  In an example that is very relevant to the Colombian situation, the Canadian National Railway has made some of its vulnerable rail lines more resilient by addressing vulnerability to landslides.  ICF is developing a screening tool for the World Bank to assist adaptation efforts like these.   Still, climate change adaptation in transport systems is not yet widespread. In our Colombian project, we will describe adaptation measures taken around the world to reduce climate vulnerability on road systems, and we will work with the Ministry of Transport, the Infrastructure agency (ANI), and the Roads agency (INVIAS) to examine road vulnerability in the Colombian context.

What have been your impressions about your first visit in Colombia? How have you sensed the Public Authorities and partners willingness to work closely with ICF and CDKN? 

During our first visit to Bogota in February 2013, we sensed great interest among transport, environment, and planning agencies in Colombia.  The participants appear more than willing, even eager, to work with us and CDKN on the project to incorporate climate change in the transport sector. We had two full days of meetings with the Ministry of Transport, the Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura, the Instituto Nacional de Vias, the Instituto de Hidrologia, Meteorologia y Estudios Ambientales, the Ministry of Environment, and the Department of National Planning.  We could not have been more pleased with the level of awareness of climate impacts and their enthusiasm to assist in the project.  Without exception, everyone was welcoming and eager to help.  Thanks to the efforts of CDKN and the agencies, we made a great start on what promises to be a crucial project for Colombia’s future.

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