A study carried out by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland indicates that
extreme weather conditions cost EU transport system at least €15 billion a
year. Currently, the greatest costs incurred are from road accidents, with the
associated material damage and psychological suffering. However, costs arising
from accidents are expected to decrease in volume, though time-related costs
attributable to delays are projected to increase. In part, this is due to
climate change, whose impact on extreme weather phenomena was addressed in the
study, and because of consequent costs.
In the study conducted by VTT and EWENT project partners, researchers
calculated the costs, caused by extreme weather phenomena for the transport
system, its users and customers of freight carriers in the 27 EU member
states. This marks the first time calculations have been completed on this
scale and scope. The study shows that the mode of traffic most vulnerable to
extreme weather is road traffic. It continues to have a higher volume than the
other modes, with the additional factor of not being centralised or
professionally controlled, in contrast to rail or aviation. In particular, the
consequences of extreme weather are visible in road traffic in the form of
increased road accidents and the cost arising from them. In other traffic
modes, far more likely than accidents will be time-related costs with a
variety of causes, typically delays. Aviation in particular is prone to
time-related costs in extreme weather. The annual net cost in European
aviation is on the order of billions of euros, borne by travellers and airline
operators. Surprisingly, infrastructure related costs did not have a lion’s
share of the total costs.
In road traffic, heavy time-related costs are particularly frequent in freight
traffic. At EU level, annual losses, measured to be around 6 € billions
annually, are suffered by the customers of freight carriers as a result of
time-related costs, and here is a risk of continued growth in costs. This is
due to the growth in volumes of freight-carrying traffic, which is forecast at
1-2 per cent a year. Furthermore, improved efficiency in production chains
accentuates the importance of adherence to timetables, creating further
potential for growth in time-related costs.
Passengers in road traffic will incur time-related costs, as extreme weather
conditions slow down traffic, keeping people away from productive work. At the
same time, however, road accidents will be on the decline in the EU. VTT’s
researchers estimate that improvements to vehicle safety, along with the
warming caused by climate change, may reduce the cost arising from road
accidents by as much as half by 2040 -2070.
The impact of climate change is difficult to predict
However, the impact of climate change on extreme weather conditions, along
with the cost arising from such conditions, is hard to estimate with any
accuracy. In the North, where most costs incurred by traffic are attributable
to snow and ice, heavy snowfalls may actually become more frequent, despite
climatic warming. In Southern Europe, one cost factor to be reckoned, but
which is studied far too little, with in the future may be heat waves, leading
to decreased pedestrian traffic and cycling, and to increased motorised
traffic. Moreover, as droughts grow in frequency, so will sand storms and dust
storms, and as heat waves are followed by torrential rains, soil will become
less firm, creating potential for landslides.
The traffic mode least affected by extreme weather is sea traffic. However,
transport by sea is no solution to the problem of the time-related costs,
experienced by European transport traffic, because cost-efficiency continues
to be the factor that dictates the choice of transport mode. Bulk freight is
transported by rail or waterways, with lower average speeds but a better
guarantee against the vagaries of weather. High-priced freight, sensitive to
schedule disruptions, is transported by road and air, which are fast transport
modes but susceptible to the whims of extreme weather.
In conditions that are extreme but at the moderate end of the scale,
time-related costs can be cut by means of intensified maintenance measures and
improved communications. Unfortunately, the consequences of genuinely extreme
weather phenomena are hard to predict and prevent. A decrease in traffic
volume would have the most beneficial impact, brought about through improved
mass transport, virtual presence communications, and remote work. As a bonus,
this would make traffic more manageable not just for professional drivers; it
would also help minimise the environmental impact created by road traffic.
The report “The costs of extreme weather for the European transport systems.
EWENT project D4” is available at
EWENT consortium includes VTT, German Aerospace Center, Institute of
Transport Economics (NO), Foreca Consulting Ltd. (FI), Finnish Meteorological
Institute, Meteorological Service of Cyprus, via donau (AT), European Severe
Storms Laboratory (DE), and World Meteorological Organisation (UN). EWENT is
financed by the European Union under the 7th Framework Programme.