Adaptation: Field of Action Transport

Traffic jamClick to enlarge
Extreme weather events affect transport and infrastructure.
Source: Christian Müller/

There are a wide range of adaptation options in the transport sector. However, it should be noted that not only is this sector affected by climate change, but it is also a significant contributor due to immense greenhouse gas emissions. In order to avoid significant damage and high costs due to climate changes, effective, timely and sustainable adaptation measures are required.

Technical measures

Transport systems and the associated infrastructures are classified as critical and are considered highly complex and sensitive. They are of great importance for the functionality of society. For their protection and preservation, technical adaptation measures for climate change are considered particularly relevant to prevent damage. This also requires the overall adaptation of planning and construction standards.

Technical measures for dealing with high temperatures may include the use of heat-resistant asphalt mixtures that prevent 'blow-ups'. In addition, continuously welded rails and improved cooling of the electronic components of infrastructures, such as control and safety technology in rail traffic, can be technical adaptation measures. On the other hand, investments to protect against the icing of switches or roadways could be reduced in the future due to the expected reduction of frost days.

In order to prevent damage caused by heavy rainfall events, especially flooding and undercutting, the planning and dimensioning of drainage systems must be adapted. This concerns drainage and pumping systems for tunnels, bridges and roads. In areas at risk of landslides, slope stabilisations can protect individual sections of the road during heavy rainfall. Risks caused by stagnant water on roads can be avoided by milling out ruts or adapting the road layout, for example.

To adapt for storms, bridge design can be adapted to improve the connection between the carriageway and the foundation structure, for example. This requires building materials with increased stability. In addition, protective walls along roads and railways can contribute to prevention.

Rising sea levles can also endanger coastal transport infrastructure. Here it is advisable to consider relocating routes and plan alternative routes, as well as to orient investments in ports accordingly.

Ecosystem measures

Ecosystem measures (especially "vegetation management") also play a role in the adaptation of transport infrastructure to the impacts of climate change. When dealing with strong wind events and storms, the adaptation of tree species and vegetation composition along routes can help to reduce the risk of falling trees. Stronger vegetation control can help to prevent slope fires. 

Moreover, larger aisles without planting can help in both cases.
However, a conflict of objectives can arise here, since the vegetation along roads and railways fulfils the important function of shading, which plays a decisive role in protecting traffic routes and vehicles from overheating. Healthy protective forests also shield vehicles from squalls.

The risk of flooding and undercutting of transport infrastructure from heavy rainfall and high water levels can be limited by providing sufficient flood plains along rivers and in coastal regions.

Legal, political and management measures

Legal, political and management measures support the adaptation of the transport sector to the consequences of climate change in three areas: in planning (new construction), in the existing infrastructure (preventive) and when dealing with weather damage (subsequent). Since both the private and public sectors are responsible for transport infrastructure, responsibilities and tasks must be distributed appropriately. Since 2016, the network of experts from the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) has been conducting in-depth research to enable climate resilient and environmentally-compatible modes of transport through innovation.

Individual modes of transport face particular challenges. In particular, the maritime industry needs to expand monitoring, forecasting and warning services and adapt risk management and technical requirements for ships and port infrastructure. This is because storms and heavy seas are becoming more likely as a result of climate change. With regard to inland navigation, adaptation to possible low water levels in the maintenance of waterways is necessary through sediment management, for instance. In addition, shipping companies can use smaller ships with less draught at low water.

The public sector is also called upon to revise guidelines and regulations. This includes guidelines for disaster management, emergency rescue, construction and planning decisions and other norms and standards. Improved communication and cooperation between industries, associations and authorities is important.

Organisational measures can also help to adapt the transport sector:

  • Monitoring of damages
  • Risk and impact analysis for the infrastructure portfolio
  • Risk mapping for extreme weather events
  • Preparation for failures
  • Reduction of intervals for maintenance and servicing
  • Replacement of damaged traffic infrastructure with climate-resilient alternatives
  • Climate resilient planning of new transport infrastructure

Improved communication can also raise awareness of the problem among all actors and road users, thus increasing personal provision and the acceptance of adaptation costs.