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Alan McKinnon – Professor of Logistics

THE 
LOGISTICS BLOG

Current issues in logistics and transport

Adapting Transport Systems to Climate Change: EU-US Symposium

On the 16 and 17 June I had the pleasure of chairing a symposium in Brussels on the adaptation of transport systems to climate change and extreme weather, jointly organised by the European Commission, the US Transportation Research Board (TRB) and US Department for Transportation. This brought together 45 top specialists in this field from the US and Europe for a couple of days of brainstorming and networking.

The scene was set by keynote addresses from two very distinguished speakers.

Professor Don Wuebbles of the University of Illinois, who is currently on assignment to the White House as an advisor to President Obama on climate change, presented a wealth of up-to-date data showing very clearly the extent of global warming and the primary role of human activity in causing it. Climate change is well underway, its pace is accelerating and evidence of its devastating impacts is mounting. Transport systems are highly susceptible to these impacts.

The second keynote was delivered by Jan Hendrik Dronkers, the head of Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch government agency responsible for road and water infrastructure. Protecting the built environment against natural forces is one of the Netherland’s core competences. In the absence of dykes, two-thirds of the country would be under water. So it makes sense to look to this country for advice on how to protect transport infrastructure from extreme weather events.

During the symposium delegates discussed three types of event: rising sea level / storm surges, excess precipitation / river flooding and extreme heat / droughts. With the help of real-world and hypothetical case studies, they examined what can be done before, during and after such events to make transport systems more resilient.

A detailed summary of the symposium discussions will be published by the TRB around the end of the year. I can very briefly mention a few of the key points that arose. One was the need to upgrade methods of risk management in the transport sector. The vulnerability of our transport infrastructure has to be carefully assessed and mapped, taking account of inter-connections with other critical infrastructures, particularly the electricity grid and communication network. As transport becomes more electrified, automated and web-enabled these infrastructures are becoming more tightly coupled.

Vulnerability assessment is only part of a wider process of adaptation planning which is still at a relative early stage in its development. It has been partly constrained by the inability of climate models to furnish transport engineers with data of sufficient spatial granularity to ‘climate-proof’ infrastructure at the local level. Thankfully, significant progress is being made in the so-called ‘down-scaling’ of climate data.

While we were discussing these issues the latest set of global climate data was released indicating that May 2016 was the 13th month in a row of record average global temperature, something which has ‘provoked a stunned reaction from climate scientists’ .  If this continues, the climatic adaptation of our transport systems will have to be accelerated and recalibrated to accommodate more extreme conditions.

The research challenges that this poses demand greater international collaboration. Judging by the comments and commitments made at the Brussels symposium, we can expect closer Trans-Atlantic research co-operation in this rapidly expanding field.

The report of this symposium was published in December 2016

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© Professor Alan McKinnon 2018

Kuehne Logistics University
Hamburg
Germany

contactme@alanmckinnon.co.uk

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© Professor Alan McKinnon 2018

 

Kuehne Logistics University
Hamburg
Germany

 

contactme@alanmckinnon.co.uk

 

Contact me

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