Berlin Hbf (Europaplatz), Berlin, Germany
Image credits: Daniel Abadia on Unsplash, 2018

Transport is an integral part of the economy and society and plays a vital role in the everyday lives of people and businesses. European transport policy is designed to meet their needs while ensuring adaptation of transport to climate change. Adaptation actions are focused on transport infrastructure design and management, particularly on the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) and are supported jointly by European policies on climate change, regional development and research. The European Union promotes best practices, mainstreaming adaptation within its transport infrastructure development programmes, and provides guidance, e.g. by developing adequate standards for construction. Without appropriate and effective actions, disruptions in European transport systems caused by climate change are expected to result in significant economic costs and are likely to affect disproportionately disadvantaged social groups and less-developed regions.

Policy Framework

The need for adapting the transport system to the impact of climate change has been highlighted since the European Commission's White Paper Adapting to climate change: towards a European framework for action (COM (2009)147). The 2013 EU Adaptation Strategy (COM/2013/0216) focuses – among other - on promoting action at the Member state´s level, on climate-proofing of key vulnerable sectors including transport and better-informed decision making.

The 2018 evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy (COM(2018) 738) stated that the wide-ranging objectives of the strategy had not been completely fulfilled in five years, but progress had been made. As far as transport resilience is concerned, the long-term infrastructure investments are highly needed according to the evaluation. , The EEA’s latest Assessment of Climate Change Impacts and Vulnerability in Europe 2016 highlights the vulnerability of transport infrastructure to climate change impacts. There is room to further expand the integration of adaptation in infrastructure, e.g. by prescribing climate proofing for any infrastructure funded by the EU, and particularly when the infrastructure is vital for emission reduction efforts.

The roadmap for the next decade towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system that supports mobility, reduce Europe's dependence on imported oil and cut carbon emissions in transport by 60% by 2050 is outlined in the European Commission´s White Paper(COM (2011)144), adopted in 2011. Amongst the goals of this main European strategic document for the transportation sector to be achieved by 2050 are no more conventionally fuelled cars in cities and a 50% shift of medium distance intercity passenger and freight journeys from road to rail and waterborne transport. In 2016, the Commission Services published an Implementation report on the 2011 White Paper.

To meet all current challenges of the transportation sector related to climate change, technological and socio-economic development, the European Commission is nowadays working on a comprehensive Strategy for a Sustainable and Smart Mobility. The Strategy was announced as part of the European Green Deal and is scheduled for release before the end of 2020. It will supersede the 2011 Transport White Paper as the European Commission’s vision for transport.

Within the preparation of this document, the Commission launched in July 2020 a public consultation on the future of transport to allow both stakeholders and citizens to comment and identify their priorities.  It will enable the Commission to better understand how the EU can help in making the sector more sustainable and competitive, modern, and resilient to disruptions.


Climate-proofing of major EU funded projects

The Trans-European Transport Network TEN-T includes nine core corridors across Europe, where investments are prioritised. Map visualization of TEN-T corridors is available here.  Actions are planned through work plans which, in accordance with TEN-T Guidelines, must include an analysis of the possible impacts of climate change on the infrastructure and propose measures to enhance resilience to climate change, if relevant. The second generation of such work plans was presented at the end of 2016. The Rhine-Alpine corridor is the only one with a specific section on adaptation; five other corridors (Atlantic, Baltic-Adriatic, Orient-East Mediterranean, Scan-Med, and North Sea-Baltic) mention adaptation as an issue to be considered within future work plans. The prospects for future action is similar in all these corridors, including (1) mapping specific needs, opportunities and projects linked to the adaptation to climate change (e.g. extreme events risk increase, variability of water level and flows in river basins), and (2) highlighting best practices along the corridor that have a potential for cross-fertilization and replicability for adaptation to climate change.

The revised Guidelines of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), approved in December 2013, stated that all network developments should take into account the impact of climate change and of potential natural and man-made disasters on infrastructure and that TEN-T should be planned, developed and operated through adequate consideration of the vulnerability of transport infrastructure. The revision and development of transport-related standards is included within action 7 "Ensuring more resilient infrastructure" of the EU Adaptation Strategy (COM (2013)216), and has resulted in a priority list with 13 standards to be revised in the transport, energy and construction sectors. This list was prepared by the Coordination Group ‘Adaptation to Climate Change’ (ACC-CG) of CEN and CENELEC, following the mandate issued to them in 2014 (M/526).

In response to the huge transformations affecting transport, the European Commission launched the TEN-T evaluation process in spring 2019. Its inclusion in the European Green Deal reconfirmed the vital role of the TEN-T network in enabling an efficient and decarbonised transport system. The revision is not done in isolation from the national level.  In parallel, the Member states ´ progress towards completing TEN-T sections within their territory is being assessed. This is particularly important in terms of the completion date of the whole TEN-T network by 2030.

The review included a large stakeholder consultation and an external study. Depending on the results and conclusions of the evaluation, a proposal for a revision of the TEN-T Regulation is planned in the second quarter of 2021.

The Commission Implementing Regulation No 215/2014 lays down general methodological provisions for the consideration of climate change in transport projects submitted for EU financing under the European Regional Development Fund or the Cohesion Fund. The European Commission has published a fact sheet on "Climate Change and Major Projects" further outlining the climate change related requirements and guidance for major projects.


Integrating adaptation in European transport strategies

The European Commission undertook a mid-term review of various aspects of the 2011 transport white paper, which resulted in the publication of the Commission Staff Working Document SWD(2016)244 final. This revision considered adaptation in transport as successfully addressed through the TEN-T guidelines, and focused future action on climate change mitigation, leading to the current European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility (COM(2016)501 final), and to the 2017 mobility package Europe on the Move.

The Low Emission Mobility Strategy is a framework for the initiatives that the Commission is planning in the coming years. It also shows how initiatives in related areas are interconnected and how synergies can be achieved.


Mainstreaming adaptation: SEA and EIA as key procedures for integration

Both Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) are relevant tools for adaptation to climate change. Practical guidance was published by the European Commission in 2013 for integrating climate change and biodiversity into the procedures for the SEA of plans and programmes, and the EIA of projects in many sectors, including transport.

The SEA guidance recommends the use of an "evolving environmental baseline" to understand the climate impacts on the implementation of plans and programmes, and to identify adequate responses over time. The EIA guidance states that "Europe’s infrastructure needs to be adapted to better cope with natural phenomena caused by climate change, considering that the design parameters identified at a project’s inception may no longer be valid at the end of its potentially long lifespan". Taking potential climate change impact into consideration in EIA can make projects more resilient.


Improving the knowledge base

The impacts of climate change in the transport sector have been addressed in the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C.

The staff document on "adapting infrastructure to climate change" accompanying the European adaptation strategy (SWD (2013)137) provides a detailed list of climate-related impacts on transport infrastructure for all transport modes, and remains a key reference for researchers and practitioners.

The development of methodologies for vulnerability assessment of transport networks has been supported by a number of research projects under the transport research theme of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technology Development (FP7), and this support has been continued under the societal challenge "Smart, Green and Integrated Transport" of the current framework programme Horizon 2020.

Four research projects were funded by FP7 (ECCONETWEATHEREWENT and the” wrap up" research project MOWE-IT). MOWE-IT summarized the main vulnerabilities of transport infrastructure to extreme weather events, suggested actions for policy makers, and other stakeholders, and identified research needs. Some transport modes have conducted their own modal research initiatives; this is the case of roads (ROADAPT), rail (ARISCC) or aviation (Challenges of Growth). For maritime transport, the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure (PIANC) has encouraged cooperation on adaptation of maritime transport and ports at the global level.

With regard to Horizon 2020 research programme, four research projects dealing with climate change adaptation of transport are funded.  The main purpose of the RESIST project (RESilient transport InfraSTructure to extreme events) is to increase the resilience of transport operation to natural and man-made extreme events. Another project FORESEE (Future proofing strategies FOr RESilient transport networks against Extreme Events) aims at increasing the resilience of multimodal transport infrastructure and thereby reducing the impacts of natural and human disruptive hazards on critical elements of multimodal transport such as bridges, tunnels and terminals. The SAFEWAY´s (GIS-based Infrastructure Management System for Optimized Response to Extreme Events on Terrestrial Transport Networks) aim is to design, validate and implement holistic methods, strategies, tools and technical interventions to significantly increase the resilience of inland transport infrastructure. Development of a decision support system for increasing the resilience of transport infrastructure based on combined use of terrestrial and airborne sensors and advanced modelling tools is the main purpose of the PANOPTIS project.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are a particular area of interest in transport research. ICTs offer potential to improve the capacity to assess information, including climate and extreme-weather information. A good example of this is the deployment of ICTs in road transport through the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) Action Plan, initially adopted in 2008 and revised in 2013, which has resulted in the adoption of Regulation 886/2013, on the provision of road safety free of charge traffic information and Regulation 962/2015, on the provision of EU-wide real-time traffic information services.

A general economic assessment of the damage critical infrastructures in Europe could suffer due to climate change has been published by a team including researchers from the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (Forzieri, Bianchi et al. 2018). In the transport sector, the current annual expected damage would be €0.8 billion, and could reach €11.9 by the end of the century.


Supporting funding and investment

Major transport projects are funded through two main channels: on the one hand, the Connected Europe Facility (CEF) for projects included in the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T); on the other hand, the European Regional Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF) under the European Regional Policy.

Highlighted indicators

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