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    >> “Climate Solutions” is also available as a podcast and an e-book.


    By Diego Ferrer, Birgitte Keulen and Meryn Martens

    To those of us in the developed world, climate action means switching to electric vehicles, taking a bike or public transport. By contrast, in the developing world, climate action also requires better roads.

    That’s not because we want people in the developing world to drive more fossil-fuel cars. It’s to protect them against the disastrous human and economic effects of climate change that occur when roads are flooded, covered by landslides or interrupted by unusable bridges. This is an important element in the battle against climate change and it requires major contributions from multilateral development banks like the European Investment Bank and supranational bodies like the European Union.

    This “adaptation” to climate change is an important component of the European approach to climate action, making sure infrastructure and people are better prepared to cope with extreme weather and protected from its consequences. The European Investment Bank, which is expanding its adaptation work with the support of the European Commission, has built substantial climate expertise on innovative European projects. Ally that with its extensive financial resources and it can have a real impact in the world’s poorest countries.

    Rising sea levels and the increased intensity of storms already affect many areas, particularly in developing countries, including small island states.

    Even if the world succeeds in keeping temperature rises below the target of 2 degrees Celsius set out under the Paris Agreement, the climate has already changed enough to put many countries and regions at greater risk from extreme weather events. Rising sea levels and the increased intensity of storms already affect many areas, particularly in developing countries, including small island states.

    In this context, adaptation has a very clear economic and human angle. When a road has been washed away by a storm, there is an obvious economic cost in lost trade, because the road is impassable to commercial trucks. However, the road is also impassable to workers or visitors, as well as to emergency services dealing with the effects of the storm. In the longer-term, children can’t get to school and patients can’t schedule regular hospital treatments.

    In developing countries, design standards and maintenance provisions are sometimes lower due to budget constraints and are not always based on recent extreme weather predictions.

    Three development climate solutions

    Why are developing countries so vulnerable? It’s to do with the way they build their roads.

    Roads are built to last from 20 to 50 years and to withstand extreme weather events that occur only once in 50 to 100 years. Climate change means that these events will become more severe. In developing countries, design standards and maintenance provisions are sometimes lower due to budget constraints and are not always based on recent extreme weather predictions. At the same time, existing infrastructure may degrade faster due to harsh weather conditions, resulting in the need for earlier upgrade and replacement.

    Three recent projects approved by the European Investment Bank show the scope of its adaptation work.

    In December 2018, the EU bank signed a €20 million loan to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. In concert with a €5 million grant from the EU’s Asia Investment Facility signed in April, this will ensure that 1 400 km of vulnerable rural roads across six Laotian provinces are protected against the effects of the country’s increasingly long and dramatic rainy season.

    The project improves and reinforces roads so the 1.6 million Lao in those provinces can stay connected to vital economic and social networks.

    The European Investment Bank works in close cooperation with the EU External Action Service, the European Commission and the EU delegation to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on the ground, as well as with other development banks. It builds resilient roads, and together with other multilateral development banks it ensures that besides actual project implementation capacity building is also taking place to build the long-term sustainability of its investments in developing countries.

    The EU bank’s development adaptation work often includes technical assistance and project advice that helps local engineers adapt to an uncertain future climate. For example, the European Investment Bank is advising on a project to build a coastal defence system for the capital of São Tomé. Its contribution requires a lot of time, funding and coordination. But it will result in climate-adapted infrastructure that will be hugely beneficial to our partner countries in the long term.

    A bridge to development

    Similarly the European Investment Bank has also approved infrastructure projects in Haiti and the Dominican Republic after natural disasters struck there.

    In Haiti, the European Investment Bank approved a €25 million loan to Haiti in April 2019 to build bridges and rebuild bridges destroyed by Hurricane Matthew. The bridges are needed as evacuation routes during storms—increasingly frequent, due to climate change—as well as providing economic links for people who presently are cut off during rain storms. The bridges will be financed through the European Investment Bank loan and supported by help on the ground and grants from the Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Investment Facility, a regional blending facility of the European Union.

    Across the border in the Dominican Republic, a similar post-disaster reconstruction project will include social housing, waterworks to prevent flooding, and of course rural roads that are more resilient. This will be financed through an EIB loan and a grant from the Caribbean Investment Facility.

    Development climate adaptation for future extremes

    These experiences help us lay important foundations for development. Our methodology for assessing adaptation investment—developed in coordination with other multilaterals—brings rigour to the planning of infrastructure work that will increase the impact of the investment and make it last longer. As well as helping to repair infrastructure that has been damaged, the European Investment Bank also ensures that the quality of the rehabilitated roads or bridges are of a higher standard and thus better able to withstand future extreme weather events.

    This is as important for transport projects that are aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, such as our major investments in the Lucknow and Cairo metros, as it is vital in adaptation projects, such as the loan for roads in Laos.

    That also means partnership. We already mentioned the Haiti bridge project that is implemented in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank. The European Investment Bank also joined with the Asian Development Bank  to finance the Vientiane Urban Transport project to introduce a bus rapid transit system in the capital of Laos and substantially increase the quality of life in the city. The Bank is also examining other areas of infrastructure cooperation with the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, in line with overall EU policies to reduce poverty according to the agenda 2030 and the socio-economic development plan of Laos.

    Bespoke urban climate adaptation

    Rural roads are not the only aspect of mobility and development in which adaptation is of increasing significance. The city is the nexus of one of the greatest climate challenges facing international institutions. Climate change runs on a parallel track to the massive increase in urban population forecast for the coming decades. By 2030, the UN predicts that 68% of the world’s population will live in cities, compared to 55% now. Much of this growth will come in developing countries and is linked to broader demographic trends. Some African and Asian countries are expected to double their populations by 2050, according to the UN, and most of that growth will be in cities.

    Urban transport solutions are different from those for interurban mobility. Cities in Asia, the US and the EU require bespoke solutions, because of different density characteristics. (Think of Tokyo and then think of Los Angeles. One size does not fit all.)

    We need to keep working on these solutions and to increase the resources we devote to them. That’s why the European Investment Bank should get the financing it needs for its activities outside the EU. It is also why we are planning to set up a subsidiary devoted to development work.

    In cooperation with other European institutions, we will build on our current expertise to expand our future impact.

    Climate solutions in transport if you’re a…

    •  Policymaker: consider
      • adaptation policies that make our infrastructure more resilient to climate change
      • mitigation policies that help to avoid or reduce travel related greenhouse gas emmissions, such as teleworking, good public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure and electric cars
      • policies that help develop and scale-up technologies that fit with a decarbonised future.
    • Citizens: As a citizen, you cannot adapt the infrastructure, but you can live closer to your work. Consider whether you need to take that long trip. Take public transport, a bike or go by foot and switch to an electric vehicle.
    • Financial institutions: Invest in the solutions that help climate adaptation and mitigation.

    Diego Ferrer is a lead economist for strategic roads at the European Investment Bank. Birgitte Keulen is senior engineer for regional transport programmes, and Meryn Martens is lead engineer for urban mobility.


    >> “Climate Solutions” is also available as a podcast and an e-book.