The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report issued last week indicated that unprecedented changes are required to slow the Earth's warming and mitigate consequences such as increasing incidents of severe weather.

Meanwhile, this week the World Roads Association’s International Seminar "Resilient Roads and Climate Change Adaptation" is taking place in Beijing, where many experts will be sharing views on how best to protect transport infrastructure in the light of the increasingly dramatic effects of climate change. 

Extreme weather around the globe is certainly nothing new. However, in recent years the world has seen a major increase in the frequency and severity of events impacting on communities. With the UN warning ‘we have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe’, surely all of us are responsible for assessing risk and mitigating it where we can.

In the past months, there have been several natural disasters and severe weather events such as, the damage left by Hurricane Michael in Florida, flash floods in Mallorca and a tsunami in Indonesia to name just a few.

The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) Environmental Consultancy team conducts research into the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on infrastructure and the implications for road authorities.

TRL has observed that to ensure essential infrastructure is fit for purpose, consideration of climate change needs to be embedded in asset management with infrastructure owners taking a proactive approach to mitigate risk before severe weather events occur.

“Often the cost of doing nothing in terms of future repair and the operation and performance of infrastructure is greater than the cost of taking preventative action.”

As the global independent centre for innovation in transport and mobility, TRL is involved in a wide range of projects across the UK and Europe helping authorities to understand how they can future proof their transport networks and adapt to climate change.

If current climate projections are correct, transport infrastructure will be increasingly subject to climate hazards such as flooding and heatwaves, suggesting that a modification to infrastructure designs and materials may be needed.

Experts at TRL have assisted with research for a number of authorities including Transport Scotland, Department for Transport and the Conference of European Directors of Roads (CEDR), developing methods to a combine asset, climate projection and other types of data to assess risk, at an asset and network scale. 

TRL is leading a CEDR project called DeTECToR (Decision-support Tools for Embedding Climate Change Thinking on Roads) to produce practical tools and guidance that will enable road operators to better integrate climate change considerations in decision-making and procurement.

The DeTECToR project will assist the road industry in dealing with the increasing impacts of climate change on their operations, as well as meeting their carbon reduction targets.

Climate change presents a significant challenge for road authorities worldwide both in dealing with its impacts on their infrastructure and networks, and in finding ways to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if they are to meet the targets recommended by the IPCC.

Further changes in climate mean the world is dealing with more frequent extreme weather events, greater sea level rise and increased stress on infrastructure leading to higher deterioration rates.

Evidence suggests that incidents of severe weather are predicted to rise, so it is imperative that regions adapt to climate change and prepare for severe weather and the potential repercussions on life and infrastructure.

By Dr Sarah Reeves, Climate Resilience and Risk Consultant at TRL

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