When climate action means better roads

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

epa02976078 A Cambodian man walks on a makeshift bridge as the road was destroyed by the floods water at a village along the Mekong river in Kandal province, Cambodia, 22 October 2011. The European Union's executive on 21 October 2011 pledged 10 million euros (13.8 million dollars) in aid to flood-hit countries in south-east Asia. Tropical storms, typhoons and heavy rains have plagued the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand since July, with floods killing over 600 people, the European Commission said. EPA/MAK REMISSA

The European Investment Bank is stepping up its climate adaption projects in developing countries, and that means building roads and infrastructure that can better cope with natural disasters, write Luca Lazzaroli and Léon Faber.

Luca Lazzaroli is deputy head of operations at the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg. Léon Faber is EU ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in Vientiane.

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 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 is expanding its adaptation work with the support of the European Commission. Our support for innovative European projects gives us substantial climate expertise and our extensive financial resources can have a real impact, particularly in the world’s poorest countries.

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 frequency and intensity of storms already affect many areas, particularly in developing countries and 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.

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

Roads are built to last from 20 to 50 years and to withstand weather events that are expected to occur only once in 100 years. Climate change means that these events are more frequent and more severe. In developing countries, design standards and maintenance provisions may not be based on the most recent extreme-weather predictions. At the same time, existing infrastructure is degrading faster, resulting in the need for earlier upgrade and replacement.

Three recent projects approved by the European Investment Bank show the scope of our adaptation work. In December, 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. We are improving and reinforcing roads so the 1.6 million Lao in those provinces can stay connected to vital economic and social networks. The European Investment Bank has recently approved similar infrastructure projects in Haiti and the Dominican Republic after natural disasters struck there.

The European Investment Bank works in close cooperation with the EU External Action Service, the European Commission and the EU Delegation to the Lao PDR on the ground, as well as with other development banks. We build resilient roads, but we also build capacity in developing countries by providing technical assistance and project advice that helps local engineers adapt to an uncertain future climate.

For example, we are advising on a project to build a coastal defence system for the capital of São Tomé. Our 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.

These experiences help us lay important foundations for our future role in 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.

This is as important for transport projects aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, such as our major investments in the Lucknow and Cairo metros, as it is vital in adaptation projects, like the roads loan to Laos. That also requires partnership. Together with the Asian Development Bank, we are financing the Vientiane Urban Transport project to substantially increase quality of life in the city and also are examining other areas of infrastructure cooperation, in line with overall EU policies to reduce poverty according to the agenda 2030 and the socio-economic development plan of Laos.

We need to keep doing this work and to increase the resources we devote to it. That’s why the European Investment Bank should get the financing it needs for its activities outside the EU. In cooperation with other European institutions, we will build on our current expertise to expand our future impact.

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