Key Messages 
  • Infrastructure (e.g. roads, railway, airports, shipping) can be impacted through flooding, extreme heat and droughts.
  • Retrofitting is the most common approach promoted, although other options potentially include improved weather information and relocation.
  • Retrofit approaches are generally a high-cost option, although they have important economic value in addressing climate change adaptation. To limit investment costs retrofit should be integrated in occurring maintenance cycles.
  • Climate risk screening can help increase flexibility and robustness of new infrastructure though introducing these qualities it may involve high upfront costs which must be weighed against the future benefits.
  •  Flexibility is likely to take the form of allowing for  upgrades in future maintenance and refurbishment cycles.


Infrastructure will sustain numerous impacts as a result of climate change. These will come primarily through changes in precipitation levels, sea-level and temperatures. Increased temperatures, and the heatwaves which are expected to follow, will have impacts on roads, rail networks, and airports. Similarly, flooding (and especially flash floods) will impact road infrastructure, sea ports and airports, as well as waterflow management systems and buildings. Droughts are also expected to have impacts on rivers, which may have consequences on shipping infrastructure. Finally, the rising frequency of extreme events such as windstorms will cause multiple risks with regards to rail, road and shipping infrastructures.

Many of the measures to handle infrastructure risks involve some form of retrofitting. To handle heat, airports and rail networks would need to be adapted and modified. Roads can be modified with heat-resistant road cover to reduce strain on pavements. Flood protection also generally involves retrofitting, especially for roads and airports. To improve waterflow management and protect buildings, flood gates can be installed. For shipping infrastructure, retrofits are also widely suggested to ensure stable conditions for inland transport in case of low water flows. Adjusting vegetation management along roads and rails can also be used to effectively reduce risks from extreme events. Increased maintenance of all types of infrastructure will also help reduce potential damage. Lastly, improved weather information systems will be important.

Policy and methodological developments 

There remains relatively little research into the costs and benefits of adaptation for infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure, though there are a handful of studies at the global, national and local scales.

At the global level, an investment and financial flow analysis by the UNFCCC in 2007 estimated very high costs to infrastructure as a result of climate change. In 2010, the World Bank’s EACC study calculated the costs for developing countries of adjustments in building standards at USD 13.5-27 billion annually until 2050. For the EU, the cost of retrofitting road infrastructure for increased precipitation was calculated at EUR 49-243 million annually, with benefits of EUR 19-57 million per year (Altvater et al., 2012). The same study also estimated the costs of road retrofits for increased temperatures at EUR 3-6 billion per year, with benefits of EUR 2-2.6 billion per year. There are also studies at the country level which estimate adaptation costs for transport infrastructure, including Jochem and Schade (2009) for Sweden, and Tröltzsch et al. (2012) in Germany. Some studies have also been carried out for developing countries, including Ethiopia and Ghana (World Bank, 2010).

The protection of fluvial and maritime transport infrastructure is often very expensive. Doll et al. (2011) outline the costs of various European barriers. In the Netherlands, the Maeslantkering barrier cost EUR 450 million, while the Oosterschelde barrier totaled EUR 2.5 billion, with EUR 17 million in annual operating costs. In Venice, the MOSE plan is expected to cost USD 2.6 billion, and the flood gates in London cost GBP 534 million in addition to GBP 100 million for river defences, a art of which can be attributed to climate change.

For the improvement of weather services in order to secure transport, numerous studies exist. Across Europe, Altvater et al. (2012) calculated the installation of new hydrological stations at EUR 23 million. For Germany, the Tröltzsch et al. (2012) study calculated the cost of better weather services at EUR 4.3-8.6 million with benefits of EUR 3.8 million, annually. Prior studies, like Pilli-Sihvola (1997) and Boselly (2001) had calculated high benefit to cost ratios, around 5, for both the US and EU.

With regards to colder regions, infrastructure adaptation costs were estimated to increase by 10-20% for Alaska between 2006-2030 (Larsen et al., 2008), which is equivalent to USD 3.9-6.6 billion. Zhou et al. (2007) carried out a similar study for northwestern Canada, and numerous studies have looked at the costs of adaptation of non-tropical windstorms (Hunt and Anneboina, 2011; Tröltzsch et al., 2012; SCCV, 2007).

Main implications and recommendations 

Studies on costs and benefits of adaptation for infrastructure remain limited, especially transport infrastructure. While retrofit approaches have demonstrated important economic value in addressing climate change adaptation, this is generally a high-cost option for infrastructure. As such, focus has recently shifted towards climate risk screening for new infrastructure. If risks are identified early, infrastructure can be located away from areas which are at high risk from climate change either now or in the future.

These early considerations can also help to modify design of infrastructure to increase flexibility or robustness and build up future resilience. However, these too can come with high upfront costs which must be weighed against the future benefits. The World Bank (2006) estimated that accounting for future climate when considering high-risk projects today could cause project costs to increase 5-15%. This cost increase can be justified for some more vital infrastructure such as water supply and health, but given the timing and uncertainty of future benefits may be harder to justify in other contexts.

Flexibility is a hugely important concept when considering infrastructure design, as it can provide significant increases in resilience. For example, flexibility can take the form of facilitating easier upgrades in future maintenance and refurbishment cycles. There is, however, the potential to over-design infrastructure for climate change risks, which can have an associated cost penalty. This is especially true for developing countries, where over-design can divert financing away from options which give greater short-term economic benefits. As such, low-regret options will generally focus on avoiding high risk placement of infrastructure and over-design.

Economic methods that help decision making under uncertainty have been applied in some recent studies. In the Netherlands, van der Pol et al. (2013) carried out real options analysis for dike heightening. Kontogianni et al. (2013) studied the value of maintaining flexibility for engineered structures in Greece. Groves and Sharon (2013) applied robust decision making in a study for planning coastal resilience in Louisiana in the United States. The concept of adaptive management is also gaining traction in OECD countries, together with greater attention to low-regret measures and iterative risk management. Such approaches are present in the Netherlands as part of the Delta programme (Delta Programme, 2014; Kind, 2014; Eijgenraam et al., 2014) and in the UK under the Thames Estuary 2100 project (EA, 2009; EA, 2011).

Whilst resource intensive, these methods are demonstrated to improve the quality of decision-making.


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