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Effects Of Climate Change On Transport Systems

When people talk about climate change, most will automatically assume the common themes which are bandied about, such as storms, floods, rising sea levels, drought and changes in climate patterns and seasons. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that the changing in climate patterns will cause these effects, and it needs to be understood that climate change will potentially have much further reaching impacts 1). Regions, cities, metropolitan suburbs and towns all have interconnecting transport systems which are used in order to maintain the economic, social and environmental stability of the areas in question. The possible impacts of climate change can have serious implications for infrastructure owners, managers, operators and customers.

Several governments have identified the effects of climate change on transport systems as a key issue area and have started to focus on adaptation measures. Climate change as potential to severly impact what is called the triple bottom line, which is social, economic and environments. The Australian Government is one such governing body who has initiated frameworks in which the issues will be addressed, due to it being a country which is heavily reliant on it's transport system for most of it's economic stability. This article will look at the possible effects of climate change on transport systems, the types of transport that will be affected, implications and possible mitigation strategies.

Climate Change Predictions

In the IPCC report mentioned above, they gave warnings about the possible future consequences which will come about to to climate change in different areas, such as follows:

  • Rising temperatures and temperature extremes
  • Drought in inland areas
  • Heavy rainfall for coastal areas
  • Increased flooding events
  • Increase in thunderstorms and hail storms
  • Extreme winds
  • Increase in bushfires
  • Rise in sea levels

All of these predicted evens can have serious implications for the transport network. By the year 2030 it is predicted that temperatures in Australia will rise anywhere between 0.6 to 1.5 degrees Celsius. A lot of this heat will be seen inland and the temperatures at night are predicted to rise first 2). A combination of higher temperatures, extreme winds and drought can significantly increase the risk and severity of bushfires. Heavy rainfall, an increase in thunderstorms and rises in sea levels can also potentially cause greater amounts of localised flooding and damage to coastal infrastructure.

Australia has various types of transport systems which link the country both domestically and also overseas. The mining industry and tourism industry make up a significant part of Australia's GDP, and the transport system plays a big part in the success or failure of these industries. The major transport systems that may be affected are as follows:

Road Networks

Australia is a vast continent, and road links play an integral part in the moving of food and other goods. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over half of the freight moved in the country is done so by road, which makes it the most critical method of transport 3). Climate change has the potential to impact roads on many different levels. Increased rainfall and rising sea levels can cause higher instances of localised flooding, higher winds can damage infrastructure such as bridges, bushfires can block access to roads and extreme heat can cause instances of road bitumen melting and becoming distorted.

Damage to road infrastructure can have certain impacts on the social landscape. If people are unable to access roads and cannot travel, they are unable to get their children to school, go to work, buy food, visit friends or relatives and be unable to access vital health services. Another critical factor would be the inability of emergency services to access certain areas in the event of an emergency, and also hinder any evacuation efforts. This was seen in the United States in 1999 when 2.6 million people had to be evacuated from five different states during Hurricane Floyd. This prompted the United States government to put a focus on evacuation and the suitability of transport systems and infrastructure to do so effectively 4)

road_train.jpg

Road Train 5)

The economic effects caused by climate change on road transport systems will quite likely be the most significant. As aforementioned, more than half of the nation's freight is delivered by road, not to mention all of the local transport, people trying to get to work, school, health services will all be impacted. This will see a sharp rise in the price of food, goods and medicines, and will also cause food shortages, especially in rural and country areas. The closure of main highways for more than a few days will cause economic impacts that will be beyond measure. When looking back at past natural disasters in the country, some of the greatest costs have been related to road maintenance, repair and replacement 6).

The damage caused by climate change on road infrastructure can also potentially have an impact on the environment. Washing away of roads,bridges or other structures by floods and storms can damage fragile ecosystems and cause pollution downstream. There is also the potential for the damage of land as roads are rebuilt in different areas, hence causing further damage 7).

Rail Networks

The Australian rail system is the second largest mover of freight, and combined with road freight makes up for most of the nation's goods and services movement. There are rail networks linking all of the capital cities on the mainland, and also regional, rural, country and metropolitan areas. There are over 30 country,rural and cross country train networks, along with hundreds of metropolitan networks 8). Flooding and severe storms can wash away train tracks and bridges, high winds can cause other infrastructure damage and extreme heat can cause train tracks to distort and warp. Most of Australia's mining companies rely on the network to transport their goods to ports which are shipped overseas, and is responsible for nearly 10% of the nation's GDP.

train.jpg

Freight Train

Any disruptions to train lines and services can have a serious toll on humans, especially people living in rural and country areas who rely on trains to get to and from regional centres and cities. Many people also rely on the train to see relatives, access health services and to get to and from work. Occurrences such as this will also have psychological impacts on people by leaving them with a feeling of isolation and abandonment 9).

The economic impacts that could be caused by climate change could be quite severe. The biggest effect will be felt my mining companies, who depend on the many thousands of kilometres of railway networks to get coal, iron ore and other natural resources to the shipping terminals. There will also be the impacts for freight carrying, and many regional and rural area may run out of food and supplies in the event of a severe weather event. Infrastructure damage caused by wind, storms, floods and extreme heat can also have a profound negative impact on the economy 10).

Extreme weather events that are caused by climate change can have severe environmental effects. Train tracks and other infrastructure can get washed away in floods and severe storms, causing damage to the ecosystem and unbalance natural systems. The recreation and repair of rail lines and infrastructure can also cause new areas which were previously untouched to be acquired to achieve this 11).

Air Travel Networks

The use of the air travel network is critical for the movement of small freight items, letters and documents and of course people. Like most countries around the world, Australia relies on tourism to help generate income and to boost the economy. Tourism accounts or over 2.5% of Australia's GDP, making it an important factor in the overall make up of the economy 12). Climate change can affect air travel by delaying or cancelling flights due to severe weather events and also causing airport infrastructure damage from flooding, high winds and storms.

perth_airport.jpg

Perth Airport, Australia 13).

The adverse weather conditions that may occur to air travel systems could potentially have a major impact on the economic climate of the nation. Delays and cancellations can cause an increase in costs for companies which will then have to be passed on to consumers. This will in turn reduce the attractiveness for tourists to come to the country and choosing more cost effective alternatives. The disruption will also slow down the delivery of freight, parcels and letter, which will then cause delays for businesses. All of these factors have the potential to trickle down to the consumer and hurting the average citizen. Another potential impact is that climate change can cause an increse in air turbulence, which can slow down flight speeds and cause airlines to use more fuel, hence raising the cost of flying 14).

Sea Travel Networks

There are several major ports in Australia which are home to international shipping companies. Over one billion tonnes of freight is imported or exported to Australia per calender year, making it a vital part of the country's logistical network 15). Climate change can severely disrupt large and small sea vessels, with rising sea levels, cyclones, storms and other adverse weather events all being major factors. These events can not only affect ships out at sea, but also cause significant damage to port infrastructure, rockwalls and marinas.

gladstone.jpg

Gladstone Harbour

The economic impacts from the effects of climate change on sea travel networks can potentially be severe, not only impacting shipping companies but also tourism. The delaying of ships and possible loss of cargo due to rough weather will all have adverse effects, with also tourism suffering for similar reasons, such as rough seas and changes in destination conditions, such as rising sea levels reducing the amount of habitable oceanic islands. Severe weather events can also cause damage to port and terminal infrastructure, which will in turn raise the net costs of using sea freight. The costs of these impacts can have a major impact on the nation's economy 16).

The environmental impacts of climate change on sea travel networks can also be one of concern. Severe weather events have the potential to cause major infrastructure damage, and this can cause debris, chemicals and other pollutants to enter waterways. Flooding and high levels of rainfall can also cause debris to wash into shipping areas from inland. These can have far reaching impacts, especially on tourism operators and local fishing companies 17).

Mitigation And Adaptation

Most scientists and decision makers have now accepted that in many cases is too late for mitigation for climate change, so plan B must be enforced, which is adaptation. There are a number of soft and hard measures that can be taken in order to achieve this however action is needed at a federal level, with international cooperation. Whilst we cannot control weather, we can plan for restricting the amount of damage that it can create. There can be 'soft' measures implemented for combating sea level rise and storm surges by regenerating coral reefs and naturally occurring sea barriers or by replanting sea grasses and other water plants. 'Hard' measures include the building of sea walls, groynes, marinas and levees, along with other engineering measures such as raising buildings higher off the ground, or retreating further inland.

The adaptation measures that can be taken for higher levels of precipitation could include installation of better drainage and catchment systems, planning houses and buildings in non flood prone areas and increasing the carrying capacity of dams. To combat high wind levels, building codes could be increased in order to have higher rated materials used, and the homes could be built to more energy efficient and have better orientation in order to combat high temperatures. To reduce the effects of bushfires areas of high risk should be avoided when building, and people in these high risk areas should have sufficient clearing around their homes and other fire retardation techniques such as roof sprinklers.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that most countries rely heavily on their transport systems. Whether it is for the transport of freight, food, goods or even people, we are all dependant on these linkages between cities and rural and country areas. Australia is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change on transport systems due to the vast nature of the continent, and many parts of the country already face harsh weather conditions. Adaptation measures need to be implemented sooner rather than later, as the cost of repairing is often much higher than the cost of preventing. As different governments from different nations cannot agree on a common climate change mitigation policy, there is little choice but to accept the fact that it is coming and doing as much as possible to reduce it's impacts.

Environment | Transport

1) IPCC, 2013, 'Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis', Available: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/
2) Lynch, A, Nicholls, N, Alexander, L & Griggs, D, 2008, 'Defining the Impacts of Climate Change on Extreme Events', Garnaut Climate Change Review, Monash University, Australia
4) Fu, H & Wilmot, C.G, 2004, 'Sequential Logit Dynamic Travel Demand Model for Hurricane Evacuation', Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, vol.1882, pp.19‐26
5) Road Train by Thomas Schoch licence CC 3.0, Available: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Road_Train_Australia.jpg
6) Maunsell, D, 2008, 'Impact of Climate Change on Australia's Roads and Bridge Infrastructure', Australian Government, The Garnaut Climate Change Review, Canberra, Australia
7) Stevens, L 2008, Assessment of Impacts of Climate Change in Australia's Physical Infrastructure, Australian Academy of Technical Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), Parkville, Australia
8) Australian Rail Maps, 2014, 'National Rail Map', Available: http://www.railpage.org.au/railmaps/austrail.htm
9) Jaroszweski, D, Chapman, L & Petts, J, 2010, 'Assessing the Potential Impact of Climate Change on Transportation: The Need For an Interdisciplinary Approach', Journal of Transport Geography, vol.18, pp.331‐335
10) Baker, C.J, Chapman, L, Quinn, A.D. & Dobney, K, 2010, 'Climate Change and the Railway Industry',Journal of Mechanical Engineering Science, vol.224, pp.519-528
11) Rossetti, M.A, 2002, 'Potential Impacts Of Climate Change On Railroads', Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C
12) Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, 'Tourism', Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/AusStats/ABS@.nsf/MF/5249.0
14) Williams, P.D & Joshi, M.M, 2013, 'Intensification of Winter Transatlantic Aviation Turbulence in Response to Climate Change', Nature Climate Change, vol.3, pp.644-648
15) Ports Australia, 2013, 'Total Throughputs', Available: http://www.portsaustralia.com.au/tradestats/?id=1&period=12
16) IPCC, 2013, 'Regional Effects of Climate Change', Available: http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/sres/regional/index.php?idp=225
17) United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2013, 'Transportation', Available: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/transportation.html

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