Extreme weather phenomena and climate change challenge our transport system

At the turn of the year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) International Transport Forum (ITF) published a research report on the challenges posed by extreme weather phenomena and climate change to the transport system, the transport infrastructure in particular. The report Adapting Transport to Climate Change and Extreme Weather: Implications for Infrastructure Owners and Network Managers lists nine recommendations for OECD Member Countries for mitigating and reducing the adverse effects.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd was one of the main authors of several chapters of the report, and the EWENT project that VTT coordinated a few years ago served as an important source of information for the report.

The results of the EWENT project showed that the damage caused by extreme weather could account for up to 0.15% of the EU Member States’ GDP. Every year!

The first step to take is to react immediately: Act now!

The challenges must be acknowledged now, and it is time to start processing them in the long term at once. By means of reports and seminars alone the matters will not advance as concretely as they should.

The way we have designed and built our transport system (as well as many other infrastructure systems) is based on old information. Infrastructure refers to the basic structures with life cycles extending across generations that must pass from father to son, grandson, and even great-grandson.

The transport infrastructure – ports, railways, airports, roads, streets – must be designed preparing for strain caused by increasingly stronger weather phenomena. The most important starting point for such design is the location. For example, if there is hint of risk of flooding, seek for higher ground. If flooding waters stop traffic every year or a few years apart, something is wrong. One can be prepared to face the same headache in the coming years, and even in an increasing extent.

Investing in preventive maintenance is an absolute requirement as part of preparedness: the existing structures must be maintained in such a way that the stress of weather will not damage them before the end of their natural life cycle. Maintenance usually costs less than building new structures. Sometimes, however, it may be necessary to renew the threatened basic structures that require expensive maintenance. Searching and operationalising the optimal strategy is a complex process, where research will help.

The infrastructure budgets are scarce almost everywhere in the world, and Finland is no exception. Keeping infrastructure safe and functional is swallowing an increasing share of our resources. If we do not make the necessary investments and take care of the maintenance, the future generations will need to pick up the tab.

Second recommendation: Prepare for more frequent problems caused by weather, and even failure of transport infrastructure in certain places

If all traffic into and out of a city mainly takes place through one passage or bridge, that bottleneck may turn out to be a strategic problem. All eggs should not be put in one basket, but there should be alternative routes or modes of transport available even if serious phenomena hit the area.

This strategy does not apply to extreme weather phenomena only, but also to other threats, such as terrorism or vandalism. Also it is wise to have modal options – when rails fail, the roads must offer the alternative, and vice versa.

Third recommendation: Make business continuity plans

When the transport system fails, one must know what to do next, who needs to be informed, and which chains of action to launch. When there are floods in Ostrobothnia, army engineers are needed to blow up the ice dykes. As a rule, Finnish authorities have good business continuity plans, and the local fire brigades and rescue services are on the ball together with other actors.

But are the resources scaled in such a way that preparations have also been made for more frequently occurring and intensive problems?

Technology and its use plays an important role

Technology plays a major role in all the three strategic activities described above.

  • The technologies and architectures for disseminating and sharing information serve the needs of coordinated co-operation, which is needed when dealing with extreme weather phenomena. In some contexts, novel ideas such as block chains could turn out to offer new possibilities for information exchange.
  • Sensorization and real-time monitoring of the basic structures and environment enable early reaction and minimisation of damage. New asset management philosophies and tools are needed to make use of modern technology, old ways of thinking might not work.
  • Risk management methods, system analyses and scenario techniques are tools that provide means for managing resilience, or resistance and operational reliability. Decision-makers and analysts need to start using these tools for real, and not only for academic exercises.

I would dare to say that even if the threat of adverse effects sounds bad, the challenges ahead could provide Finnish know-how a new stepping stone – we have the right mix of technological and organisational competence.

More information

Pekka Leviäkangas VTT

Pekka Leviäkangas, Principal Scientist

I will present the nine key recommendations for action made in the OECD publication in a series of three blog articles during this spring. In each of the articles, I will discuss the recommendations personally or in collaboration with my colleagues.

Climate action gains further momentum in Marrakech

The Paris climate agreement came into force several years earlier than originally expected. At the Climate Change Conference held in Marrakech, Morocco, on 7 to 18 November 2016, the details and implementation of the Paris Agreement were negotiated. The Finnish delegation included Senior Scientist Tommi Ekholm and Research Scientist Tomi J. Lindroos from VTT. Progress was made, even if it was slow and often technical and bureaucratic. In many cases, the most interesting things happened outside the meeting rooms.

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The negotiations focused on the implementation of the Paris Agreement – detailed rules that ensure the attainment of the Paris Agreement in practice. Key issues included the rules for international emissions trading, funding and capacity-building for developing countries, and the reporting of emissions by such nations. As is customary at climate change summits, rapid progress was made on some fronts, while negotiations almost stalled on other issues. The most difficult topic seemed to be the so-called ‘global stocktake’ process. This will consist of a five-yearly assessment of whether the countries’ emission reduction targets will suffice to hold global warming under two degrees.

The election of Donald Trump as US president was confirmed during the first week of the summit. This led to a reaction of disbelief and uncertainty at the climate conference, since he had promised to begin his term in office by withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement. Correspondingly, many developing countries had indicated that their participation depended on that of the US. However, the Marrakesh summit retained its positive spirit, with the participants deciding that one country or president should not be allowed to block promising developments. China, for example, promised to take a more leading role if the United States stays on the sidelines. In just over a week, Trump had already reconsidered and was giving thought to sticking by the Paris Agreement.

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USA side-event in Marrakech.

Many countries published new climate objectives or strategies before, during or after the climate meeting. In addition to nation states, over 7,000 municipalities and cities have adopted voluntary climate goals; while hundreds of companies have made their own climate pledges and set emission reduction targets. We have clearly entered a new era of climate policy.

The speed of technology development surprises every year

The price of many low-carbon technologies, such as solar and wind power, have fallen faster than expected over the last few years. Around 300 billion dollars were invested globally in renewable energy production in 2015, and the cost of renewable electricity has clearly fallen below that of fossil power in many auctions. The next, corresponding transformation may occur in traffic.

Global CO2 emissions have almost marked time over the last three years. This development has been much more positive than countries’ emission reduction commitments suggest. On the other hand, the matter is urgent since many observations and measurements indicate faster-than-expected global warming, and more dramatic effects than predicted.

Tomi J. Lindroos, Research Scientist

Tommi Ekholm, Senior Scientist

Local residents must be heard in Arctic climate and energy policy

In recent years, Arctic areas have played a pivotal role in the debate on energy and security policy. As global warming is having the strongest impacts on the northernmost areas, new sea routes will emerge, as will new opportunities to use natural resources.

The United States is acting as the Chair of the Arctic Council in 2015–2017. Its chairmanship programme focuses on three areas: Improving Economic & Living Conditions for Arctic Communities; Arctic Ocean Safety, Security & Stewardship; Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change.  As part of its quest for answers to these questions, the US launched a Fulbright Arctic Initiative research programme, bringing together 17 researchers from eight Arctic countries to address the joint challenges affecting the entire Arctic area.  The programme began on 1 May 2015 and will last for 18 months. I am one of the programme participants – the only one from Finland.

Cooperation throughout the area

The expertise of the Arctic Initiative programme participants is centred around the four themes of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative programme: energy, water, health and infrastructure. Each programme participant is conducting a personal research project around one of these themes. Additionally, we have formed three groups that engage in cooperative research I am in the energy group with five other researchers.

The first steps of our cooperation were challenging, as we come from different academic fields and did not know each other in advance. We launched our cooperation in May, by attending a week-long seminar in the town of Iqaluit, on Baffin Island, in the Nunavut territory of Northeast Canada. As our first step, we sought to form an overall understanding of key questions pertaining to energy production and energy policy in the Arctic. After the seminar, we continued to cooperate through ‘irregularly regular’ online meetings, online conferences involving all programme participants, and in a midway seminar held last February in Oulu, Finland.

Gradually our work has progressed: our group created a website (http://fulbrightenergy.com/), drew up publication plans and finally settled on a common research topic. Our joint efforts will involve looking into what an increasing shift towards renewable energy sources means for Arctic regions, particularly to its inhabitants, and their means of influencing such a change. We will showcase our work next October in Washington, where the programme results will be presented at several events to the Arctic policymakers, researchers and the general public.

Participants in the Fulbright Arctic Initiative programme in Iqaluit in May 2015.

Climate change and energy policy in the Arctic

The Arctic region will face major changes in the coming decades. Although local emissions are relatively small, climate change is having greater effects on this region than elsewhere. The Arctic climate has already warmed by two degrees since pre-industrial times, and the changing climate is affecting traditional livelihoods such as fishing and reindeer husbandry. Increasingly strict emissions targets – to which the agreement reached in Paris last December can be expected to contribute – mean increasing use of renewable energy, including in the Arctic region. The tree line is expected to move northwards over forthcoming decades. Estimates suggest that boreal forests will replace 10–50% of tundra within the next 100 years.

On the other hand, different Arctic countries are facing very different situations. The week we spent in Iqaluit last May clearly demonstrated how different the living situation is in the North American Arctic compared to the Scandinavian Arctic. In the territory of Nunavut, where Baffin Island is located, energy production is almost completely reliant on energy imported from elsewhere. Practically all electricity is generated by diesel. Most villages spend most of the year completely cut off, with aeroplanes serving as the only means of transport. Problems and solutions that are relevant to Scandinavia may not be relevant at all to North Canada or Alaska.

The opinions and livelihoods of local inhabitants matter

Arctic areas are facing considerable problems, and there are no simple solutions. A programme such as Fulbright Arctic Initiative produces information and insight in support of the work of decision-makers. It is essential to hear local inhabitants – Inuits, the Sámi people and others alike – in decision-making, in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of past decades. They must be listened to when energy production is developed.

On the other hand, such areas also need support in adapting to the effects of climate change. Indigenous people in many Arctic areas often have social problems. As global warming threatens traditional livelihoods such as reindeer husbandry and seal hunting, these problems and general feelings of pessimism are at risk of worsening. Both the United States and Finland as the next Chair of the Arctic Council seem willing to address these issues. Time will tell what solutions are found for Arctic climate and energy policy.

Laura Sokka

Senior Scientist

Laura Sokka is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University.

The Fulbright Center (Finland–US Educational Exchange Commission FUSEEC) is an organisation specialising in academic exchanges between Finland and North America. In Finland, the Fulbright Center is a private, independent, non-profit organisation whose operations are funded by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, the US and Canadian governments and increasingly by private foundations and individuals. The Fulbright Center annually awards some EUR 900,000 in scholarships for exchanges between Finland and the US.

The Fulbright programme supports academically distinguished students, researchers and professionals from various fields. The Fulbright Center also awards grants to American postgraduate students, lecturers, researchers and experts arriving in Finland.  VTT also receives high-level visiting researchers from America every year through the Fulbright programme. 

First steps taken towards a low-carbon society, but marathon still lies ahead

Tiina_Koljonen_72dpi

World statesmen decided to give a Christmas present to future generations, agreeing to mitigate global warming by one and a half degrees Celsius this century. To achieve this goal, we will need to make the transition to a low-carbon society before 2050.

Prime Minister Sipilä’s Government has begun preparing Finland’s energy and climate strategy, which should provide milestones for Finland’s progress towards becoming a low-carbon society. The strategy looks ahead to 2030, in line with the next goal of the European Union’s framework for climate and energy policies.

Finland has already achieved a broad consensus on combating climate change – and has developed the required willpower. On the other hand, since there are many paths towards a low-carbon Finland, the challenge lies in finding a range of measures to which we are all ready to commit.

Roadmap to a low carbon society

In the period 2012–2014, VTT was coordinating a multidisciplinary project funded by Tekes, the Low Carbon Finland 2050 platform. The main objective of the project has been to sketch out alternative low-carbon paths and scenarios for Finland, to be analysed by a diverse group of experts. A range of computational modelling tools was used to assess the impact on Finland’s energy and national economy, and on the sustainable use of natural resources.

The work supported the Parliamentary Committee on Energy and Climate Issues in its preparation of a low-carbon roadmap for Finland. The goal of the platform was to initiate a broad-ranging and open debate involving the various actors, scientists and political decision-makers involved. This was largely achieved, but the greatest challenge is a communicative issue: how should the results be communicated and how should the transparency of the computational modelling methods, databases and source data used be increased?

Current position needs to be established before a direction is set

Contrary to the way it is often described, Finland’s energy system is highly advanced in many respects. After Sweden and Latvia, Finland has the EU’s third highest share of renewables from final energy consumption. Consumer electricity prices are among the lowest in the EU; at around half of German and Danish prices, for example. Efficiency of energy production in Finland is world class, thanks to combined heat and power production.

There is room for improvement, of course, since Finland imports more than 60% of its energy, but in this respect too, Finland outperforms the EU average.

Data quality is critical to determining our starting point.  Experts, decision-makers and the media need to know when they can trust the data they are given. We will easily stray off our new course if errors pile up.

How to plot the best route taking us through several decades?

The energy markets are in transition and the choices made over the next few years will determine our future direction for years to come. A series of measures has been set out in the Government Programme, such as phasing out the use of coal in energy production, halving oil imports for domestic use, and increasing the share of renewable energy to more than half from energy consumption by 2030. These measures are being taken in order to reduce Finland’s greenhouse gas emissions and improve its energy self-sufficiency, while also expediting the development of the Finnish cleantech sector.

No part of our society is unaffected by energy use; new technology will play a key role in energy development. We need to bring our greenhouse gas emissions close to zero in energy production and radically scale them down in industry, households, the service sector, agriculture and transport by 2050. We need to find the right measures and instruments for achieving this objective on a managed and sustainable basis. This will require a comprehensive and systematic analysis of the effects of measures, collaboration across disciplines and sector-boundaries and, ultimately, efforts and sustainable choices from every one of us, Finland’s consumers.

A long journey lies ahead and the road may well be bumpy, but our goal is within reach.

Tiina Koljonen

Research Team Leader

VTT supporting energy planning in Namibia

The moment you land on Hosea Kutako International Airport next to the capital of Namibia, Windhoek, you quickly realise you’re in a special place. Surrounded by a savannah landscape, rolling hills and an occasional wild animal you can’t help but feel a sense of adventure. This feeling grows stronger when you get an opportunity to explore the vast country more; Places such as Etosha National Park, the sand dunes in the Namib Naukluft National Park or simply the rough but beautiful wilderness everywhere in the country will impress even a more experienced traveller. But behind these amazing landscapes, serious challenges arise and many of them relate to climate change.

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According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) southern Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change. Climate change vulnerability is especially high concerning extreme events such as increased drought causing water stress, land degradation, desertification and loss of biodiversity. As a major part of the population is reliant on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, livestock management and fishing, these events can endanger the food security and the overall development of the region.

At the same time, among other development challenges, many of the countries in the region are facing big decisions concerning the development of their energy sector.  For example, the Namibian energy sector has seen very little investment on electricity production capacity, making the country very reliant on energy imports. As other countries in the region are also experiencing difficulties in securing their electricity supply due to aging energy infrastructure and growing consumption, major investments would be needed.

Namibia is situated on shores of the Atlantic Ocean north from neighbouring South Africa. It is a vast, dry country with a population of only 2.3 million.

Namibia is truly at a crossroad concerning the development of its energy sector, and the decisions made now will have a major impact for several decades. Fortunately, Namibia possesses a significant potential for utilising renewable energy sources, especially solar.

Sunset in Swakopmund, Namibia

Informed decisions about future sustainable energy system

During recent years, VTT has been involved in energy policy development in Namibia by supporting the work of Ministry of Mines and Energy of Namibia. Currently, VTT works on a project related to energy efficiency and renewable energy options for the Namibian fishing industry.

Project manager Miika Rämä with Mr. Peya Hitula, the General Manager of fishing company Tunacor.

Interest on energy issues has been high, not least because of rising price of electricity: a 65 % increase on average during past 5 years for commercial and large power user consumers. In general, concerns on the electricity supply are currently a hot topic of public discussion.

The need for the capacity building on energy issues in the region is high. For example, the changes in electricity system operation and management due to increasing solar based electricity production would benefit from smart grid and electricity storage solutions. Currently, the country is moving towards a highly distributed electricity system with a significant number of relatively small scale power plants in development. Namibia’s fist photovoltaic power plant of 4.5 MW in capacity was inaugurated in 13th May 2015.

The Namibians also face the problem of evaluating which technology providers actually can guarantee reliable systems, and do not just try to sell their product for buyers with limited knowledge and experience on the technologies and their profitability. Thus capacity building by a neutral party such as VTT has been highly appreciated by the stakeholders met in the projects.

There is a lot of room for very important work in the region, and the expertise of VTT’s energy systems specialists can serve the Namibians for making better decisions for future sustainable energy system. This work can also contribute in tackling the challenge of climate change adaptation. Not perhaps by the scale of activities, but by setting an example that with given resources and careful planning a 100 % renewable electricity system is a realistic target.

Current project team (from the left): Kati Koponen and Miika Rämä from VTT, Nils Hauffe from NWV Market Discovery, Inc.

Kati Koponen, Research Scientist

Miika Rämä, Research Scientist

 

See also:

Research report: Development of Namibian energy
sector

The Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP)

International Renewable Energy Symposium (IRES) – NAMIBIA

Embassy of Finland in Windhoek

 

This is how IPCC’s climate report was created

Laura-Sokka_1

The third and latest contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change addressing climate change mitigation was published on 13 April in Berlin. For the last two years, I have had the extremely interesting task of taking part in writing the report as a contributing author and a chapter science assistant.

As a process, the Assessment Reports of the IPCC are unique. In addition to the report authors, the work involves hundreds of other experts and decision-makers as commentators.

Although the work is demanding and performed on a voluntary basis, the position of lead author is highly sought after. The reports form an important reference work regarding climate change. Furthermore, they play a key role as the scientific basis for UN’s climate negotiations.

Sleepless nights

My main task has been to assist the coordinating lead author of the sixth chapter, which addresses transformation scenarios. Although the work was stressful at times, it was also extremely rewarding. Each draft was subject to expert and/or government review, and before each deadline work sometimes continued through evenings, weekends and even nights.

Working so closely with the coordinating lead author and the technical support unit in the preparations of the report has given me a real insight into how these reports are compiled.

This work has also convinced me that every effort is made to draft these reports so that the results would be the outcome of an impartial and open process. Any literature that is referred to must be approved before a specific date (in unclear cases, written evidence is collected from the publisher) and all comments given regarding the drafts are responded to in writing.

The process culminates in a week-long meeting in which government representatives review the report’s summary for policymakers word by word. Once the process is over, all participants are certainly exhausted but at the same time proud. Although the end result may not be perfect, it is the best and most extensive publication regarding the subject.

Emissions must be curbed close to zero

What was accomplished? The message of the Working Group 3 contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report is clear: without additional measures to reduce emissions, greenhouse gas emissions will double by 2050. Scenarios show that restricting global warming to less than two degrees requires that global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to almost zero by 2100.

The earlier these mitigation measures are started, the more likely it is that the two degree goal will be achieved.

It is clear that reaching the goal will be extremely challenging. There is no single way to curb emissions, but effective emission reduction requires measures in all sectors. Transferring to low emission energy sources such as renewable energy, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS) are among the key measures.
In addition to the energy production solutions, innovations that save energy and a change in living habits towards lower consumption of energy are required. In all of these, technology plays a major role.

Cleantech is an export product

Although climate change incurs costs for society, it also offers new business opportunities.

Over the last few years, the cleantech sector has been one of the fastest-growing sectors in Finland. Strict emission reduction measures offer many business opportunities in the environmental technology sector. VTT also develops a wide variety of technologies to mitigate climate emissions.

Mitigation of climate change should not only be seen as a cost: it can also be a great opportunity. The majority of emission reduction measures will take place in the developing countries. At present, exports already cover a large share from the cleantech industry turnover. Increasing emission reduction measures will create even larger markets in China and other developing countries.

Laura Sokka, Senior Scientist