Vulnerability to climate change
Extreme floods and dry periods are nothing new in the history of climatology. What is new is the impact of human made global warming playing out on top of these dynamic climate patterns. Inland waterway transport is vulnerable to climate change because river navigation depends on precipitation and water levels for its operations and extreme events may become more frequent. There is a vital link with industrial policy. Waterways are an important location requirement for the construction, agricultural, steel, energy and chemical sectors, all delivering prime materials for important industrial value chains. Reverse modal shift is not the only imminent threat, frequent seriously low water periods without coordinated action expose Europe to the danger of offshoring instead of reshoring, leading to loss of production and jobs in the EU. In 2018, the prolonged low water period on the Rhine in Germany resulted in a decrease of the country’s industrial production by 5 billion Euros.
How to strengthen the resilience of inland navigation transport in view of this phenomenon will certainly be an important question to be addressed. What has changed are the increasing vessel size, the trend towards just-in-time logistics and the resulting reduction of buffers in the supply chain. This has resulted in ever lower tolerance levels for climate change-induced interruptions. Infrastructure is also typically designed to last for about 50–70 years, while the reliability and resilience of inland waterways and waterway transport vulnerable to climate change require increasingly flexible measures, synergies and smart adaptive approaches to improve performance, rather than blueprints and silo thinking. No river or even river stretch is the same. Adaptation to climate therefore requires action at the level of the fleet, logistics and infrastructure as well as more cross-sectoral coordination.
The capacity to adapt
Inland waterway transport has the capacity to adapt to changing weather situations as it has shown in the past. Inland Navigation Europe is a supporter of the Navigating a Changing Climate Partnership, and as such is committed to:
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and moving to low carbon navigation infrastructure
- Strengthening resilience and adapting to the effects of the changing climate
- Promoting integrated solutions and sustainable solutions
- Disseminating information about climate change issues relevant to navigation infrastructure
EU climate change adaptation strategy
INE advocates a comprehensive, innovative and European-wide action plan integrated in the wider European Climate Adaptation Strategy, adopted in the beginning of 2021. Waterway authorities take a progressive and flexible approach building on progressive insight and look for no-regret and cross-sectoral win-win measures. But they need stronger EU action to help increase and share knowledge, cooperation between water users to create co-benefits, to coordinate instruments of different policies and matching funding to be successful across borders. Increasing climate preparedness requires the following actions:
- Step up research and development
- Fully exploit digital support tools
- Increase cross-sectoral dialogue, coordination and approach for the preparation of EU guidance and requirements to maximise the co-benefits between water users to enhance multi-functional resilient solutions for more EU added value
- Ensure policy integration and consistency between climate change mitigation and adaptation
- Enhance acceleration of deployment with flexible, adaptive and no-regret solutions
- Ensure easy access to funding and financing for climate-prepared infrastructure and fleet.