The Effects of Climate Change on the Inland Waterway Network

The Effects of Climate Change on the Inland Waterway Network


C Heyndrickx, T Breemersch, Transport & Mobility Leuven, BE


The present paper specifically addresses the topic of climate change impacts and adaptation, taking inland waterway transport (IWT) as a case-study. The results figuring in the paper are based on the results of the EC funded ECCONET project.


The present paper specifically addresses the topic of climate change impacts and adaptation in the transport sector, taking inland waterway transport (IWT) as a case-study. Generally speaking, IWT is characterised by a high degree of reliability and safety compared to other transport modes. Against the background of the climate change debate however, new concerns are starting to raise attention. IWT is expected to be more sensitive to climate change aspects than other transport modes, e.g. in terms of water level fluctuations and resulting effects on costs and reliability.

The results figuring in the paper are based on the results of the EC funded ECCONET project, which is an interdisciplinary project combining the expertise gained from climatology, hydrology, transport-economics, ship engineering and inland waterway management. A quantitative approach is applied, using the results of existing climate ensembles, hydrological results from KLIWAS for the Rhine area and the COSERO model for the Danube area and results from the transport network models TRANSTOOLS and NODUS.

ECCONET uses the concept of the impact chain of climate change. This impact chain is an analytical tool, which gives a top-down representation of the impacts leading up to the effects of climate change on the inland waterway transport sector. The impact chains starts with the high level changes in the climate of the world, coming down to regional climate impacts, changes in hydrological conditions and the changes in navigation conditions or water balance. The impact on the sector is eventually determined by the robustness of the network, the operators, capacity and diversity of the fleet and the possibility of the sector to adapt to new conditions.

In the modeling world, the impact chain is represented by a series of interlinked models. The paper starts with an overview of modeling results and shows how at each stage of the impact chain model results are linked to another. Due to the high number of models necessary to represent the impacts and the uncertainty each new model adds to the system, the uncertainty on the final effects is very large. In its effort to handle this uncertainty without reverting to extreme and very improbable scenarios, the ECCONET project proposes a balanced scenario selection, based on a series of impact chains.

The paper indicates how a climate impact scenario was selected from a model ensemble for the Rhine and Danube regions. Scenarios are selected to represent a "relatively dry" and "relatively wet" future, representing the range of variability which the ECCONET project considers. Then, it is shown how hydrological previsions can be extracted for representative years from the set of model runs. ECCONET focusses on the occurrence of spells of low water periods, which were empirically proven to be the most damaging to the sector. We define two horizons for our analysis: "the near future 2020-2050" and "the far future 2070-2100".

The economic part of the project was faced with several difficulties and uncertainties. Climate change is a slow process and it was necessary to include developments in infrastructure and transport demand in our analysis. An economic background scenario was constructed in two steps, first including important changes in the TEN-T network and then in the freight demand, based on the EC White paper of 2011.

The paper presents results of the entire analysis for the Rhine and Danube area, taking into account the different characteristics of each market. We distinguish the expected change from the current navigation conditions in the near and far future and the effect of including our economic scenario. Our results are reported in terms of changes in transport cost, modal split and transported bulk and goods by mode. We find that the impact on the sector is limited, at least in the near future. On very long term, a tendency towards longer and more intense dry periods could be identified.

In parallel to the impact chain analysis, ECCONET evaluates targeted adaptation measures to climate change. The main concern for adaptation is coping with periods of low water levels.We show how adaptation can be integrated with the transport network previsions and can be processed for cost-effectiveness analysis. We find that a relatively large scale of options are available, which could already be effective under the current conditions.


Association for European Transport