International Climate Change Adaptation Framework for Road Infrastructure

The International Climate Change Adaptation Framework for Road infrastructure (Framework) was developed by the World Road Association to help the road authorities in member countries develop consistent approaches for assessing climate change effects on road networks and identify appropriate measures to reduce climate risks to transportation infrastructure.  The Framework guides authorities through a series of steps to help them assess the risks to transportation infrastructure, prioritize assets for adaptive response, develop strategies to respond to climate risks, and integrate assessment findings into transportation decisionmaking processes.  The Framework takes a life-cycle and iterative approach to climate change adaptation and it can be applied at various scales (national, regional, local, or asset-specific).

The four stages of adaptation planning described in the Framework include the following:

  • Stage 1 – establish the scope, identify data sources, and define assets, locations, and climate change projections and scenarios to consider.
  • Stage 2 – assess and prioritize risk including the probability and severity of climate change impacts to road infrastructure.
  • Stage 3 – develop and select among different adaptation responses and strategies
  • Stage 4 – integrate findings of assessment into road infrastructure programs, processes, investments, strategies and systems (e.g., Transportation Asset Management)

The Framework is also designed to be applicable in all geographical, climatic, economic, and environmental conditions, to all types of road networks, and for road authorities at different stages of adaptation decision-making. As a result the Framework does not adopt any specific set of climate change projections but acknowledges that global climate change will result in gradual changes to average climatic conditions; and changes in the frequency, severity, and location of extreme weather events, which will effect transportation systems and assets.  The four broad categories of climate change effects discussed in the Framework include changing temperatures; changing precipitation and storm patterns; sea-level rise and heightened storm surge; changes to snowfall, permafrost and ice coverage; and other climatic effects (A comprehensive list of potential impacts are included in Appendix C to the report).

At Stage 1, the Framework guides practitioners through the process of scoping an assessment, gathering relevant climate data, and establishing climate change projections and scenarios for the assessment.  The scope of the assessment should consider the availability of data (climate change scenarios, highway network, etc.), financial resources and expertise, and the target audience and desired results sought for developing the assessment. The Framework recommends that practitioners create a tasks and delivery plan that establishes the scope and delivery of the assessment and roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders.  The Framework also guides practitioners through the process of evaluating and scoring assets for vulnerabilities based upon climate change projections and the exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacities of different assets and locations within the scope of the assessment. The Framework also helps practitioners assess the adaptive capacity of assets and transportation systems to determine if the network, asset or operations can accommodate the projected climatic changes.  Indicators of high adaptive capacity include the ability to quickly repair damages, redundancies in the system that provide alternative transportation routes, and the ability to make adjustments to minimize disruptions to the network.  In developing climate change projections, the Framework recommends use of IPCC projections but notes that global IPCC projections are developed at a scale that may be of limited value for regional or local planning and thus may need to be downscaled.  Road authorities can partner with research establishments and academia to develop climate projections for the study area.  These projections are then used to assess infrastructure exposure and vulnerability and risk probability levels. 

At Stage 2, road authorities are guided through a process to help them assess the probability and severity of possible impacts to the particular assets and the roadway network using the results of the Stage 1 of the assessment.  The Framework recommends that road authorities determine severity based upon the possible impacts to populations and communities, people and employees, the economy, society, and stakeholders and supply chains. The authorities are directed to score and compare in a matrix the severity of impact to assets across these criteria to the likelihood of impact, to determine the risk category of the asset (extreme, high, medium, or low).

In Stage 3, the road authority is guided through a process of identifying and choosing among adaptation responses that are appropriate to the risks and priorities identified in Stage 2.  The Framework lists a range of policy options for adapting transportation infrastructure to specific impacts including the following examples:

  • Sea-level rise and storm surges – raise roads and pavement, construct levees and seawalls, realign roadways, use natural systems to protect roadways (e.g., mangroves and artificial reefs), site critical infrastructure out of areas at risk to rising sea levels, strengthen flood management plans
  • Reduced rainfall and drought – use flexible paving structures, increase water retention capacity, revegetate with drought tolerant species, use matting and erosion control blankets, maintenance soil moisture and nutrient levels
  • Increased precipitation – reduce the gradient of slopes, increase water retention capacity, raise pavements, add additional drainage capacity, use water capture and storage systems, realign natural water courses, provide for alternative routes in the event of road closures, broaden emergency warning systems
  • Increased wind strength – modify design of supports and anchorages, install windbreaks, plant coastal forests and mangroves, assess structural stability of suspension bridges, signs and tall structures
  • Increased temperatures – use heat- and fire-resistant materials, improve vegetative management, enhance cooling and ventilation of electrical equipment, use anti-corrosion paint
  • Changes in snowfall, permafrost and ice coverage – facilitate heat extraction using air convection in embankments, use heat drain, insulate permafrost, use pavements with high surface solar reflectivity (albedo)

In prioritizing adaptation responses, road authorities are advised to consider available resources, technical feasibility, public acceptance, and consistency with national policies. The Framework gives guidance on conducting a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and multi-criteria analysis (MCA) for evaluating and prioritizing among adaptation responses.  Under a CBA the cost of adapting the asset is compared to benefits provided by the adaptation response as measured by the reduction in the climate change induced cost of damaged within a certain time horizon and discounted to present value.  MCA captures environmental and social benefits that cannot be valued in monetary terms.  To use MCA, the road authorities are called upon to develop a single list of adaptation criteria, define those criteria, and assign a relative weighting.  MCA criteria can include capital costs, lifecycle costs, technical feasibility, political acceptance, environmental impacts, sustainability, and risk of no action (Box 11 at p. 46).

Based upon the prioritized adaptation responses, the Framework advises road authorities to develop an Adaptation Action Plan detailing the measures to be implemented and the risks the measure will address, the time scale for implementation, the agency responsible for implementation, the estimated cost of implementation and the funding source, as well as the priority of the action in relation to other actions. 

Stage 4 of the Framework is designed to help road authorities ensure that the findings of the assessment are integrated into the various plans, programs, and policies that drive transportation decision-making including: asset management plans, inventories and policies; landscape strategies; traffic management strategies; investment plans; design standards and specifications; emergency and risk management process; hazard mitigation plans; transportation planning project selection criterial; and environmental reviews.  The Framework also advocates that road authorities incorporate climate change in education and training programs to ensure that employees responsible for all phases of the transportation lifecycle (design, construction, operation and maintenance) have an understanding of climate risks and adaptation strategies and have effective strategies for communicating with stakeholders.  Finally, the Framework advises road authorities to establish systems for ongoing monitoring, review of climate change risks, and updates to adaptation plans. 

The Framework also includes case studies of examples of different adaptation planning processes in the transportation sector including: discussion of the Climate Projection Database for Roads (CliPDaR) of European road networks (at p. 24); the XGEO Risk Management Tool developed by the Norway Government (at p. 25); US Department of Transportation Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Report (at p. 31); relocation of roads in Vanuatu (p. 35); roadside slope stabilization in Sri Lanka (35); Climate Resilience recommendations for Mozambique (36); raising a critical causeway in New Zealand (37); Canadian guidelines for maintaining and rehabilitating transportation assets on permafrost (38); techniques for considering climate change in the design of a new road or when maintaining and existing road development by the French Ministry of Transport (the TRACC-EXPERT Project (at p. 39); New Zealand’s National Infrastructure Plan, which includes infrastructure resilience as a guiding principle (at p.50); The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials guidance on Integrating Extreme Weather Risk into Transportation Asset Management (at p. 51); Maryland’s Transportation Asset Management Program (at p. 52); among others.

To develop the Framework the authors conducted a literature review of existing frameworks, strategies, guidance, and case studies and conducted a consultative interviews with road authority (including authority officials in Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Malaysia, Scotland, China, Mexico, Romania, Tanzania, and the US).


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on January 29, 2016.


Publication Date: 2015

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  • Assessment guide
  • Planning guides


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