Are Transport Planners Paying Enough Attention to Adaptation?

The NDC Transport Tracker provides insights in adaptation actions of NDCs and LTS

In just the past few weeks, we have seen severe flooding in Greece, Turkey and South Africa that has destroyed lives, livelihoods and infrastructure; flash floods that have affected the New York subway and airport; Typhoon Koinu in Taiwan; and drought that has led to record low water levels in rivers in Brazil, isolating communities from trade, medicine and food. These events come on top of the slower, more continuous effects of climate change, such as rising temperatures and sea levels. So, we ask – is the transport sector prepared for the changes that are already happening and those that are yet to come?

Although Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Low-emission Long-Term Strategies (LTS) do not provide the full picture, the NDC Transport Tracker from GIZ and the SLOCAT Partnership makes it possible to analyse what these documents say about transport and can serve as an indicator on priorities for countries. We took a look at what countries are planning to enhance resilience in the sector.

The fact that an increasing number of countries have included some form of adaptation action in their updated NDC or in LTS shows growing awareness. However, the sector is far from ensuring resilience of the system under a changing climate.

Limited focus on adaptation and resilience in transport

It is clear that NDCs and LTS focus mainly on mitigation. However, from the very beginning, developing countries have emphasised the need to include information on adaptation to ensure that the topic does not fall off the agenda. This concern is reflected in the submissions: All NDCs and two thirds of LTS that include adaptation measures for transport come from developing countries.

Considering insufficient mitigation ambition, adaptation becomes even more important. Despite this, less than half of second-generation NDCs (43%) and only one fifth of LTSs (21%) address transport resilience. The largest share of NDCs that include transport resilience measures are from low-income countries, with more than half of low-income countries including adaptation measures, compared to only 17% of high-income countries. We can only hope that the topic is not covered so much in those countries due to a lower need for international financing and not because of a lack of awareness and action.

Even fewer countries have set adaptation goals. Only eight countries have set quantitative or qualitative adaptation targets for the transport sector. These include setting target years for the implementation of relevant activities, specifying the number of ports or other infrastructure to be built or renovated in a climate-resilient manner, and the amount of funding to be allocated to climate-proofing infrastructure.

Adaptation in Kenya’s forthcoming Long-Term Strategy (LTS)

Expected climate impacts and planned adaptation responses are a key element in the Kenya’s forthcoming LTS, which was presented at the Africa Climate Week. The country calculated that investments in adaptation in the transport sector will average around USD 51 million per year over the next 30 years but will prevent a staggering USD 477 million per year in damages. This seems to be a pretty good return on investment! Priority actions include the mainstreaming of climate change in the next 20-year Roads Master Plan, development of a 50-year Transport Master Plan in line with climate targets, as well as climate proofing of new and existing transport infrastructure across modes.

Adaptation needs greater mainstreaming in planning and policy

Consideration of climate change at all planning levels is essential, if governments are to design resilient systems that have lower long-term costs but remain reliable. The assessment of climate change risk and vulnerability needs to become an integral part of transport system planning and should be legally required. Adapting to expected impacts can mean using alternative materials, changing designs, adding protective elements, including ecosystem based measures or choosing different sites in infrastructure projects. Existing systems need to be evaluated and, whenever possible, modernised.

The adoption of design standards and technical norms at the national level can support stakeholders in this process. International standards such as the ISO 14090[1] Adaptation to Climate Change standard can provide guidance. To ensure climate change adaptation works in practice, policies, plans and building codes must take into account local conditions and vulnerabilities.

Nevertheless, measures in NDCs focus on structural and technical solutions, such as flood protection and improved maintenance and we see the same trend in LTS. Despite the importance of frameworks that make adapting to climate change an integral part of the process, only 26% of measures aim to mainstream climate considerations in their institutions and regulatory frameworks (see figure).

Focus of transport adaptation measures in second generation NDCs

Awareness and capacity are key – as is better climate information

Resilient transport infrastructure and mobility services will only be possible if transport actors at all levels of government are aware of the threats posed by climate change to the systems entrusted to them and possess tools and knowledge for addressing these challenges. This requires salient information to be collected and distributed and for stakeholders to receive training on how to select the best solutions. Raising awareness and building capacity will also support the integration of climate change in every-day decision making. 14% of measures in second generation NDCs are aimed at enhancing this capacity. The Sourcebook ‘Adapting Urban Transport to Climate Change’ is a great tool to help policy-makers to raise awareness and understand possible adaptation measures for urban transport.

At the same time, disaster risk management and contingency planning, including early warning systems, can minimise the negative effects of extreme climate events. Such plans and systems ensure that emergency responses take place to restore critical infrastructure and maintain transport availability. To ensure the optimal implementation of such policies, coordination at various levels and between sectors is needed as well as innovative financial solutions. However, only around 3% of NDCs and 4% of LTS contain measures related to early warning systems or emergency planning. If this is any indication for the preparedness of countries, then we should worry.

Awareness activities should extend to the private sector. Not only logistics companies are directly affected by climate-induced disruptions to transport systems. Most companies and businesses rely on the delivery of input materials for production and transport of final products to customers. Retailers require goods to sell and that customers can get there to buy. As businesses may be significantly impacted, harnessing their ability to contribute to the solution will help to prioritise activities, secure necessary financing and tap into the vast experience and knowledge of local stakeholders.

Reporting on planned and implemented adaptation activities can support provide inspiration to others. But international funding will be required to implement measures at scale to significantly enhance resilience in the sector. Information provided in NDCs and LTS can help inform funders and those providing technical assistance and clarify country priorities.

Browse NDCs and LTS’ yourself: The NDC Transport Tracker

The NDC Transport Tracker, developed by GIZ and SLOCAT, is a tool to track the ambition of transport targets around the world. It provides insights into what other countries are aiming to achieve, i.e. what transport actions they have included in their NDCs and LTS, and how this is evolving over time. Results based on the tool have, for example, been used in the latest SLOCAT Transport, Climate and Sustainability Global Status Report – 3rd Edition. The tool also enables peer learning. Countries can check what others have already implemented or are planning to implement and contact their counterparts to discuss and learn from their experiences.

[1] More information about the standard is available at:

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