Severe weather proving costly for the EU
Results from a new EU-funded project show that extreme weather conditions cost the EU's transport system at least EUR 15 billion every year.
The EWENT ('Extreme weather impacts on European networks of transport') project, which ran from December 2009 until May 2012, was supported by the 'Transport' Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to the tune of EUR 1,478,981.
Led by researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the project also brought together partners from Austria, Cyprus, Germany, Norway and Switzerland. The team calculated the costs incurred as a result of extreme weather for the transport system and its users in all 27 Member States.
The project results, presented in a report titled 'The costs of extreme weather for the European transport systems', show that road traffic is the part of the transport system that is most vulnerable to extreme weather and that road accidents currently result in the greatest cost increases: whether it be through spending on repairs to associated material damage or through psychological services costs for victims.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, however, as the researchers predict that improvements to vehicle safety could reduce the cost arising from road accidents by as much as half by 2040-2070.
The researchers also point out that, ironically, changes in temperature caused by climate change could also help reduce the number of road accidents in some parts of the EU.
However, they concede that that it is tricky to make accurate predictions about the impact of climate change on extreme weather conditions. In northern European countries, where most costs incurred by traffic are as a result of snow and icy conditions, heavy snowfalls may actually become more frequent, despite global warming. And something to consider when it comes to southern European countries is that potential future extreme heat waves could hamper attempts to encourage walking or cycling and instead lead to more people reaching for the car keys. The study also points out that droughts lead to sand and dust storms, and the torrential rain that usually follows a heat wave can up the chances of a landslide.
Where other types of traffic are concerned it is not accidents that pose the biggest threat, but rather time-related costs in the event of delays, for example, with aviation being particularly prone to such costs in extreme weather.
On the roads it is freight traffic that bears the brunt of these time-related costs: in the EU, freight carrier customers lose EUR 6 billion each year in time-related costs, and the study predicts that these costs are expected to rise. This is due to the growth in freight-carrying traffic volume. To boot, as production chains continue to become ever more efficient, today there is greater importance placed on sticking to strict timetables, so any delays are costly for the production chain as a whole.
The mode of transport least affected by extreme weather is sea traffic. However, transport by sea is certainly not a solution to the time-related costs problem experienced by other modes of transport in Europe as cost efficiency remains the deciding factor when choosing a mode of transport.
Bulk freight tends to be transported by rail or waterways, with their lower average speeds but better guarantees against the risks posed by the weather. High-priced freight, sensitive to schedule disruptions, is transported by road and air which, although faster, remain vulnerable to the unpredictable nature of extreme European weather.
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VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland:
Category: Project results
Data Source Provider: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
Document Reference: 'The costs of extreme weather for the European transport systems'.
Available online: http://www.vtt.fi/inf/pdf/technology/2012/T36.pdf
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Environmental Protection; Regional Development; Scientific Research; Social Aspects; Transport