29.01.2019

Costa Rica’s transport infrastructure to be made climate proof

Visiting sites slated for adaptation measures with Marco Schmidt (BBR) and Peter Fehrmann (Berlin Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection); Photo: Kristin Diederich / GIZ

Visiting sites slated for adaptation measures with Marco Schmidt (BBR) and Peter Fehrmann (Berlin Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection); Photo: Kristin Diederich / GIZ

On account of its geographical location, Costa Rica is regularly affected by climate-related extreme weather events and natural disasters such as landslides and volcanic eruptions, storm surges in coastal areas and flooding along rivers. Added to this comes the fact that the areas especially affected by these events are densely populated and play a key role in Costa Rica's economy. A robust transport infrastructure that can withstand the different extreme weather events is thus of tremendous importance for the Central American country and its people.

This is why in its National Policy for Adaptation to Climate Change, and with the support of the IKI project Enhancing Climate Services for Infrastructure Investment (CSI), Costa Rica has set itself the goal of transforming its infrastructure planning and management processes and making the infrastructure itself "climate proof" - in other words, making it resilient and adaptable to the future impacts of climate change.

As part of the CSI project, which is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, a five-day delegation trip was organised which took in visits to Bonn and Berlin. The trip enabled Costa Rican experts and their German counterparts from GIZ, the Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) and its project management agency Zukunft-Umwelt-Gesellschaft (Z-U-G) gGmbH to engage in in-depth dialogue on adaptation needs and opportunities for transport infrastructure in the face of climate change. The study trip to Germany was designed to give Costa Rican delegates valuable input which they can use in developing action plans that can then be used to enable successful implementation of policy decisions. Costa Rica's transport sector plays a key role in all of this because on the one hand, it is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and on the other, it forms the backbone of Costa Rican business and society.The eight-strong delegation from Costa Rica comprised representatives from the Environment Ministry (MINAE), the Transport Ministry (MOPT), the National Roads Authority (CONAVI), the Federated College of Engineers and Architects (CFIA) and the National Institute of Meteorology (IMN).

Costa Rican delegates with their counterparts from GIZ, BMU and Z-U-G in Berlin. Photo: Kristin Diederich/GIZ

One thematic focus of the delegation trip was value creation in climate change and adaptation services in Germany, starting with the collection of climate information and ending with fully-developed climate change adaptation solutions. To derive evidence-based and efficient adaptation solutions from climate information, a functioning value chain is vital. At two workshops on climate services for adaptation planning, the delegates talked with representatives from the German Meteorological Office (DWD), the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA), the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and engineering consultants of the office "Infrastruktur und Umwelt" about the success factors for usable and effective adaptation services. Looking at ways to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 9 - Building Resilient Infrastructure, they identified three core requirements: (i) availability and usability of the necessary information, (ii) availability of tools for use in identifying climate risks and in prioritising and selecting adaptation measures, and (iii) institutional frameworks which promote climate-resilient management and planning. In addition to legislation which requires consideration of climate change, these include the necessary political and scientific leadership and will.

In Germany, structures such as Deutsche Klimadienst (DKD), inter-ministerial working groups and the BMVI Network of Experts with its action area on adaptation to climate change are particularly helpful when it comes to enabling the necessary level of inter-institutional exchange. Ways in which climate information can be optimised by using the right tools together with climate impact and climate risk assessments, and then made available for use in adaptation planning were discussed at a workshop hosted by the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) in Bergisch-Gladbach near Cologne. BASt works as an arm of the BMVI Network of Experts to make Germany's roads climate change ready and part of that work involves conducting climate impact assessments in cooperation with DWD. Topics addressed at the workshop also included the challenges and opportunities of infrastructure digitalisation and the role big data will play. The workshop participants all agreed that a key tool in creating resilient transport infrastructure is the adoption of preventive lifecycle management in place of the existing reactive approach. If, in infrastructure planning and management, known climate risks are taken into account right from the start, the costs involved in adapting to extreme weather events can be reduced.

During their visit to Berlin, the delegation saw how concrete adaptation measures are planned and implemented in Germany. The Berlin Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Change showcased its urban wetlands or "sponge city" model for ecosystem-based adaptation: using a mix of green facades and roofs together with rainwater retention ponds, extreme rainfall can be better managed and inner-city climates can be improved. At Potsdamer Platz in the centre of Berlin, delegates viewed another adaptation measure. There, an expert from the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBR) showed them the "Piano-See" (piano lake) which keeps the city's main public square cool and improves the quality of the urban air. One of the highlights of the trip was when the delegates met representatives from the Federal Environment Ministry (BMU).

Adaptation measures on Potsdamer Platz: Rainwater retention ponds and greening of streets and roofs. Photos: Kristin Diederich / GIZ

The meeting gave both sides the opportunity to discuss the current status of their respective adaptation strategies and address the challenges they face in implementing them in the transport sector. One valuable take-away from the talks and from the trip itself was that despite their differences in terms of size and location, Costa Rica and Germany face similar challenges and can benefit greatly from sharing their experience and working together to develop solutions. In the concluding talks, the delegates acknowledged that future-focused adaptation of buildings, streets and infrastructure is already taking place in many parts of Germany. They were thus able to take a wide range of ideas and lessons learned back to Costa Rica for use in their subsequent work.