Global warming comes with a big price tag for every country in the world. The 80 percent reduction in U.S. emissions needed to stop climate change may not come cheaply, but the cost of failing to act will be much greater. New research shows that if present trends continue, the total cost of global warming will be as high as 3.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Four global warming impacts alone -- hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy costs, and water costs -- will come with a price tag of 1.8 percent of U.S. GDP, or almost $1.9 trillion annually (in today's dollars) by 2100 (1).
In the transportation and other infrastructure disciplines, there continues to be some representatives who continue to ignore the existence of climate change and the need for adaptation. Ignoring future climate change impacts places at risk the infrastructure that the public owns and depends upon state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) to manage and operate. It is important that new transportation and other infrastructure projects are designed with flexibility and resiliency to accommodate climate change’s short and long term impacts. Climate change needs to be part of the long term thinking for transportation planning, design, and operation and maintenance of transportation systems.
These opinions are shared by Secretary of the Department of Transportation Ray LaHood in a Policy Statement on Climate Change Adaptation in June, 2011(see Attachment 1 for the full policy statement) (2). This policy statement was required by the President and the Council of Environmental Quality that requires Federal Agencies to develop and implement climate adaptation plans (10).
The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) shall integrate consideration of climate change impacts and adaptation into the planning, operations, policies, and programs of DOT in order to ensure that taxpayer resources are invested wisely and that transportation infrastructure, services and operations remain effective in current and future climate conditions. The climate is changing and the transportation sector needs to prepare for its impacts.
Through climate change adaptation efforts, the transportation sector can adjust to future changes, minimize negative effects and take advantage of new opportunities. Accordingly, DOT modal administrations shall incorporate consideration of climate adaptation into their planning processes and investment decisions. DOT encourages State, regional and local transportation agencies to consider climate change impacts in their decision-making, as well– Ray LaHood.
The Federal Highway Administration also agrees with the existence of climate change and went as far as saying that human-induced increases are a contributing factor (3):
There is general scientific consensus that the earth is experiencing a long-term warming trend and that human-induced increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) are the predominant cause. The combustion of fossil fuels is by far the biggest source of GHG emissions. In the United States, transportation is the largest source of GHG emissions, after electricity generation. Within the transportation sector, cars and trucks account for a majority of emissions.
In addition to contributing to climate change, transportation will likely also be affected by climate change. Transportation infrastructure is vulnerable to predicted changes in sea levels and increases in severe weather and extreme high temperatures. Long-term transportation planning will need to respond to these threats.
AASHTO is also acknowledging the occurrence of climate change and the need for climate change adaptation to protect transportation infrastructure (4):
Among climate scientists, there is overwhelming evidence and consensus that climate change is already occurring and that it will intensify in coming decades, even if significant steps are taken to reduce GHG emissions. Current and future climate impacts include higher temperatures, rising sea levels, more severe storms, increased precipitation in some areas and decreased precipitation in other areas, higher risk of drought and wildfires in the West, stress on ecosystems, acidification of the ocean, damage to coral reefs, impacts on agriculture, and greater risk of flooding. While the most obvious risks are to coastal areas, there are also significant climate risks and changes for inland areas.
In 2008, the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed the evidence on climate change and issued Special Report 290, "Potential Impact of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation," with the following key findings and conclusions (5):
- Climate change will affect every mode of transportation and every region in the United States, and the challenges to infrastructure providers will be new and often unfamiliar
- State and local governments and private infrastructure providers will need to incorporate adjustments for climate change into long-term capital improvement plans, facility designs, maintenance practices, operations, and emergency response plans
- Design standards will need to be re-evaluated and new standards developed as progress is made in understanding future climate conditions and the options for addressing them
- Transportation planners will need to consider climate change and its effects on infrastructure investments. Planning timeframes may need to extend beyond the next 20 or 30 years
- Institutional arrangements for transportation planning and operations will need to be changed to incorporate cross-jurisdictional and regional cooperation
So let’s get over the argument that climate change is not happening….let’s get to work on addressing real greenhouse gas reduction with the same vigor as developing long term sustainable infrastructure that addresses climate change adaptation. Both federal agencies and state DOTs need to take a more aggressive approach in addressing climate change adaptation to protect infrastructure, maintain public safety and the environment and continue to promote the movement of goods and services.
FHWA Model and Climate Change Vulnerability and Risk Assessment Studies
In order to respond to climate change adaptation, FHWA developed a conceptual risk/vulnerability model and pilot study in 2010. The goal of the conceptual model is to support transportation decision makers responsible for planning and asset management in the identification of assets that are vulnerable to climate change related threats (see figure 1). The model consists of three primary components elements (6,7):
- develop inventory assets,
- gather climate information,
- assess transportation as a whole from projected climate change
FHWA provided grants to several DOTs and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in 2010 who were interested in pilot testing this conceptual model.The objective of this study was to advance the practice and application of transportation planning among state, regional, and local transportation planning agencies to successfully meet growing concerns about the relationship between transportation and climate change. This study explored the possibilities for integrating climate change considerations into long range transportation planning at state DOTs and MPOs. The study reviewed the experience of a number of DOTs and MPOs that are already incorporating climate change into their transportation planning processes and identified their successes as well as challenges faced by these agencies.The DOTs who participated in the study were all coastal states:
- New Jersey DOT (coastal and central areas)
- Washington State DOT (state-wide)
- Virginia DOT (Chesapeake Bay segment)
- Oahu-Hawaii MPO
- California Metropolitan Transportation Commission (San Francisco Bay)
- Gulf Coast-Metropolitan Scale (Central Gulf Coast and Mobile, Alabama)
FHWA Conceptual Model
There just a few states that have already started to identify the climate change threats to their infrastructure investments and have developed climate change adaptation plans (8). The following are some examples of state DOTs and how they are starting to address climate change adaptation management (12):
- Washington State- one of the few states to receive a FHWA grant for the FHWA conceptual model for vulnerability and risk assessment; DOT has established strategies to address sea rise, scour monitoring and is working with the University of Washington on climate data predictions
- Oregon- developed a Climate Change Technical Advisory Committee to identify potential climate change impacts on the transportation system; adaptation strategies developed to support transportation planning, project development and emergency response
- California- efforts were initiate by Governor Schwarzenegger’s Executive Order directing state agencies to plan for climate change impacts; CALTRANS was directed to undertake vulnerability assessment for transportation infrastructure
- Alaska- has faced significant climate change impacts already from permafrost thawing that has impacted coastal highways costing at least $10 million annually; very little reliance and flexibility has been built into their systems
- Florida- adopted a Energy and Climate Change Action Plan with a framework for adaptation strategies; 2060 Florida Transportation Plan and Strategic Intermodal System Plan requires evaluation of infrastructure risk
- Maryland- Maryland State Highway Administration developing their own adaptation plan; planning and engineering efforts must be adaptative to address effects of climate change impacts (increased rain, snow, heat, bridge scouring, pavement rutting and buckling, flooding, etc.)
The possible transportation adaptation responses for DOTs and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to address climate change are (7):
- Accommodate the climate change- increasing maintenance and repair costs and improve response time to severe events
- Strengthen structures and protect facilities- increasing resiliency and flexibility by using new design criteria to address new variables and conditions (drainage systems, sea walls, slope stability)
- Relocate and/or avoidance-move key facilities to less vulnerable areas
- Abandon and divest
- Enhance system redundancy and flexibility
- Monitor high risk infrastructure to avoid unexpected failure
During a FHWA/AASHTO Climate Change Adaptation Peer Exchange State Roundtable Meeting, several State DOT representatives identified the following challenges or barriers to climate change adaptation (9):
- Requires support at all levels of government and the public in which communication and education are important
- The time it takes to change existing practices and business for a public organization or entity
- Public perception to justify additional expenses for impacts not seen for 50 years thus the need for public outreach and education
- Must be clear direction, leadership and resources at a state DOT level to promote climate change adaptation
- Lack of standardized and accurate local and regional climate projections and data
- Coordination between DOTs and other agencies (drainage and water resources management)
- Lack of management awareness or concern about climate change and impacts
- Lack of coordination between DOTs and federal partner agencies
- Lack of available financial resources to initiate programs and accommodate new design criteria at a project level; additional funding and taxing would be required
- In Colorado, there is no support at the state-level by the legislature or transportation commission (due to information gaps)
- Some DOTs not willing to accept climate change uncertainties in weather extremes and location
Summary and Observations
Overall I believe that FHWA has started to develop important resources and tools for DOTs and MPOs to start addressing climate change adaptation. This climate change adaptation work performed by FHWA seems to have started around 2008 and the development and pilot testing of the conceptual risk/vulnerability model initiative started back in 2010. There is a lot of risk based information available.
Let’s face it, in reality a serious reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is not going to happen in the foreseeable future, unless there is a significant climate crisis. Even though greenhouse gases are regulated as an air pollutant by the Clean Air Act, there is too much big business influence and pressure and lack of political will to do anything meaningful towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions for climate change mitigation. I think it is important to continue to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using technology, regulations, carbon taxing and social awareness but there is too much greenhouse gases/carbon in the air that will take centuries to naturally reduce. We must start addressing adaptation now to protect our infrastructure investment in order to develop and maintain a sustainable transportation system.
I am not aware of any FHWA or DOT requirements of addressing climate change adaptation into the NEPA documents based upon conceptual designs. In the United Kingdom a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) requires transportation planners and designers to evaluate transportation climate change impacts. The SEA formally enables the development and implementation of adaptation and mitigation measures to address climate change impacts. Climate change is considered a cumulative impact caused by a buildup of many actions thus causing serious effects (11).
What I have seen so far at FHWA and some DOTs to address climate change is boiler plate statements about green house gas emission and climate change impacts at a project level. I have seen nothing about addressing potential impacts to transportation projects associated with climate change such as increased fire risk, loss of slope stability, inadequate drainage systems, increased storm intensities (snow and rain), increased temperature impacts on materials, bridge scouring from higher storm intensities, etc.
FHWA should start requiring DOTs to address climate change adaptation at the project and program levels. Ray LaHood’s policy statement set the stage for FHWA to start requiring state DOTs to address climate change adaptation in transportation planning, design and maintenance/operations but no real nation-wide effort is currently noted. A few progressive state DOTs and MPOs have started developing their own climate change adaption plans; however, the resistance, challenges and climate change denial is huge in other states. The argument that legislature and transportation commissioners are not supporting climate change adaptation action due to information gaps is unbelievable in this day and age. Overall many DOTs will not initiate the programs on their own, especially if they are non-coastal states unless they are required to do so by their federal partners.
It is going to take FHWA leadership and policy requirements to force many DOTs and MPOs to address climate change adaption for the protection of FHWA’s and the public’s infrastructure assets. There needs to be a concurrent and orchestrated effort to start addressing greenhouse gas emission with climate change adaptation at the national and state level. This approach should be part of an integrated sustainable strategy that supports a healthy economy, environment and community that adapts to weather extremes.
- Natural Resources Defense Council; Cost of Climate Change http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/cost/contents.asp
- Department of Transportation; Policy Statement on Climate Change Adaptation; June 2011;http://www.dot.gov/docs/climatepolicystatement.pdf
- FHWA; Highway and Climate Change; Regional Climate Change Effects; http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/hep/climate/climate_effects/effects01.cfm
- AASHTO Transportation and Climate Change Resource Center; http://climatechange.transportation.org/
- Potential Impacts of CLIMATE CHANGE on U.S. Transportation; Committee on Climate Change and U.S. Transportation; Transportation Research Board; 2008; http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12179
- Highway and Climate Change; Assessing Vulnerability and Risk of Climate Change Effects on Transportation Infrastructure: Pilot of the Conceptual Model; http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/hep/climate/conceptual_model162410.htm
- FHWA Climate Change Adaptation Activities; Southern Transportation & Air Quality Summit, 2011; Heather Holsinger
- FHWA; Highways and Climate Change; Literature Review on Climate Change Vulnerability, Risk Assessment and Adaptation Approaches; ttp://www.fhwa.dot.hep/climate/ccvaraaa.htm
- FHWA, Highways and Climate Change, FHWA/AASHTO Climate Change Adaptation Peer Exchange (State Roundtable)http://fhwa.dot.gov/hep/climate_peer exchange/peer07.cfm
- Council on Environmental Quality; Federal Agency Climate Change Adaptation Planning; Implementation Instructions (March 4, 2011)
- AEA Groups, United Kingdom’s Experience with Climate Change Adaptation and Transportation
- AASHTO, State Departments of Transportation Working to Adapt to a Changing Climate; Caroline Paulsen and Amy Phillips
POLICY STATEMENT ON CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION (Ray LaHood)
The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) shall integrate consideration of climate change impacts and adaptation into the planning, operations, policies, and programs of DOT in order to ensure that taxpayer resources are invested wisely and that transportation infrastructure, services and operations remain effective in current and future climate conditions. The climate is changing and the transportation sector needs to prepare for its impacts. Through climate change adaptation efforts, the transportation sector can adjust to future changes, minimize negative effects and take advantage of new opportunities. Accordingly, DOT modal administrations shall incorporate consideration of climate adaptation into their planning processes and investment decisions. DOT encourages State, regional and local transportation agencies to consider climate change impacts in their decision-making, as well.
The DOT policy is to incorporate climate adaptation strategies into its transportation missions, programs, and operations. Climate change adaptation is a critical complement to mitigation efforts to address the causes and consequences of climate change. Every modal administration has the responsibility to consider climate change impacts on current systems and future investments. Furthermore, planning for climate adaptation assists State and local transportation agencies, and DOT, to identify how climate change is likely to impact their ability to achieve their mission, continue operations, and to meet policy and program objectives. Therefore, DOT agencies will develop, prioritize, implement, and evaluate actions to moderate climate risks and protect critical infrastructure using the best available science and information.
This policy is based on Executive Order (E.O.) 13514 – Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance. The E.O. includes direction to address climate adaptation planning. Additionally, the Secretary of Transportation has authority under 49 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section 322 – General Powers. This Policy is effective immediately and will remain in effect until it is amended, superseded, or revoked. This Policy does not alter or affect any existing duty or authority of individual components or Offices.
In implementing this Policy, DOT will adhere to the following guiding principles.
Guiding Principles for Climate Change Adaptation
- Adopt integrated approaches. Climate change adaptation strategies should be integrated into core policies, planning, practices, and programs.
- Prioritize the most vulnerable. Adaptation plans should prioritize helping people, places, and infrastructure that are most vulnerable to climate impacts. They should also be designed and implemented with meaningful involvement from all parts of society. Issues of inequality and environmental justice associated with climate change impacts and adaptation should be addressed.
- Use best-available science. Adaptation should be grounded in best-available scientific understanding of climate change risks, impacts, and vulnerabilities. Adaptive actions should not be delayed to wait for a complete understanding of climate change impacts, as there will always be some uncertainty. Plans and actions should be adjusted as our understanding of climate impacts increases.
- Build strong partnerships. Adaptation requires coordination across multiple sectors, geographical scales, and levels of government and should build on the existing efforts and knowledge of a wide range of stakeholders. Because impacts, vulnerability, and needs vary by region and locale, adaptation will be most effective when driven by local or regional risks and needs.
- Apply risk-management methods and tools. A risk management approach can be an effective way to assess and respond to climate change because the timing, likelihood, and nature of specific climate risks are difficult to predict. Risk management approaches are already used in many critical decisions today (e.g., for fire, flood, disease outbreaks), and can aid in understanding the potential consequences of inaction as well as options for risk reduction.
- Apply ecosystem-based approaches. Ecosystems provide valuable services that help to build resilience and reduce the vulnerability of people and their livelihoods to climate change impacts. Integrating the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services into adaptation strategies will increase resilience of human and natural systems to climate and non-climate risks, providing benefits to society and the environment.
- Maximize mutual benefits. Adaptation should, where possible, use strategies that complement or directly support other related climate or environmental initiatives, such as efforts to improve disaster preparedness, promote sustainable resource management, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions including the development of cost-effective technologies.
- Continuously evaluate performance. Adaptation plans should include measurable goals and performance metrics to continuously assess whether adaptive actions are achieving desired outcomes. In some cases, the measurements will be qualitative until more information is gathered to evaluate outcomes quantitatively. Flexibility is critical to building a robust and resilient process that can accommodate uncertainty and change.
Each modal administration within DOT shall, in a manner consistent and compatible with its mission:
- Analyze how climate change may impact its ability to achieve its mission, policy, program, and operation objectives.
- Report annually on its accomplishments in implementing climate adaption strategies.
- Coordinate actions with the Senior Official responsible for implementing climate adaptation and the Center for Climate Change Steering Committee member.
- Implement climate change adaptation implementing instructions issued by CEQ.
The Counselor to the Secretary (in her capacity as DOT’s Senior Sustainability Officer) and designated modal executives are responsible for ensuring implementation of this Policy supported by the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy and the DOT Center for Climate Change.
The climate is changing and will impact the U.S. transportation system. Efforts are already underway at the Federal level and in some States and local areas, but more needs to be done. DOT will encourage efforts to ensure a transportation infrastructure that is resilient to climate impacts; however success will depend on the whole transportation sector embracing and implementing this policy.