February 25, 2020 / 4:57 PM / a month ago

Europe's infrastructure at "high risk" from climate change: U.N. study

GENEVA (Reuters) - European countries need to invest to prepare their transport infrastructure for the impacts of climate change or face hundreds of millions of dollars in repair costs, a U.N. regional commission said in a study it says is the first of its kind.

FILE PHOTO: Emergency personnel wade through water in a flooded street after Storm Dennis in Hereford, Britain, February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble -/File Photo

The study, conducted over four years by a group of experts within the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and released on Tuesday, maps out sections of infrastructure and overlays it with climate data projections.

The UNECE has 56 members but the study mostly focuses on continental Europe. It examines both how extreme weather such as landslides and floods can wash out bridges but also slower changes such as rising temperatures which can cause railway tracks to buckle.

“The adaptation to climate change of transport infrastructure has received very little attention so far and this is precisely what we want to change with this study,” said UNECE spokesman Jean Rodriguez, referring to the 199-page report entitled “Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation for international Transport Networks”.

Asked about the cost projections in the case of damage, he said: “It is not a few millions here and there. It is hundreds (of millions).”

He said two of the major areas seen as most vulnerable to climate change impacts are the North Sea ports and the road and rail infrastructure along the Mediterranean.

A 2018 report, quoted in the UNECE study, found that 60 percent of EU seaports may be at high inundation risk by 2100, according to one climate scenario.

“The bulk of the transport infrastructure in the region and in most countries worldwide has been built for the climate of the 20th century and not the extreme weather events that are now scheduled,” he added. “Obviously, that’s a problem.”

He added that many countries had not invested enough in maintenance in recent years, increasing the risks.

The U.N. report examines one scenario of flooding of the Rhine River near the German town of Oberwese in 2030, affecting roads, waterways, including freight traffic of coal, iron ore and crude oil, as well as rail routes.

Some, but not all, of the freight traffic could be shifted from the river to rail but there is not enough capacity, the study said, and additional costs would be 2.5 million euros ($2.71 million) for each day.

One of the possible outcomes of the study is the revision of technical requirements for infrastructure construction, the study said. These are governed by four U.N. treaty agreements administered by the UNECE.

It hopes to expand the research and include new countries.

($1 = 0.9217 euros)

Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Nick Macfie

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