From 2010 to 2013
ECCONET, an EC FP7 project for DG MOVE which ran for a 3-year period from 2010-2012, specifically addressed the topic of adaptation to climate change, taking Inland Waterway Transport (IWT) as a case-study. The project covered both the impact of climate change on inland waterways as well as the study of adaptation measures.

In its analysis of climate change impacts, ECCONET focused on a detailed study of climate models and their input to hydrology. Unlike other related climate change impact projects, ECCONET derived its results from a large spectrum of climate scenarios and not from one specific extreme scenario. This results in a balanced view on the future navigability of the Rhine-Main-Danube waterway area. Performing a transport economic analysis on the basis of the predicted evolution of navigability, we demonstrated that the possible climate changes from 2005 to 2050 and their impact on the Rhine market, as modelled by two long term dry and wet scenarios, are not likely to be strong enough to trigger any significant shift in modal shares away from inland waterway transportation. In fact, it is more likely that the impact of transport-economic background conditions, such as the price of fuel, will outweigh the impact of climate change. For the longer term (up to 2100), climate change could affect transport conditions more significantly. Due to the limited value of economic projections so far into the future, however, no assessment was made.
In parallel, ECCONET aimed to identify a number of adaptation measures. These fell broadly into 4 classes: technology and operational measures, infrastructure and maintenance, production and logistics processes, and improved water level forecasting. These adaptation measures were verified by a combination of literature review, transport economic modelling, cost-effectiveness analysis, and stakeholder consultation.
  • In the class of ship- and operations- related measures, the most promising measures involve weight reduction technologies and the use of coupled convoys (especially on the River Rhine). More experimental approaches exist, such as the use of adjustable tunnels, flat hulls (for towboats) and inflatable aprons, but their benefit in terms of the expected climate change could not be proven. Flexible 24-hour operation of ships that are currently only operating for 12 hours was not beneficial, due to high labour costs.
  • In terms of infrastructure measures we can conclude that large infrastructural works are not justified with respect to climate change. This is caused by the large investment costs and the limited benefit of such projects until 2050. Even under current conditions, however, there is a strong need for improved maintenance of the waterways, especially on the Danube.
  • Improved forecasting, for example in the form of a seasonal forecast of water levels, is the responsibility of governmental agencies. While a reliable forecast of this type is very hard to make, any improvement in this type of forecasting is considered very valuable to the sector.
  • As for the change of production processes and stock keeping, we found that the forwarder/shipper will usually wait out a dry period, or use presently available storage capacity. If problems persist, the shipper will consider using another mode of transport, generally railway freight, which is a more costly and inflexible solution. Investment in stock keeping and relocation is only considered as a last resort.
While the expected climate change impact until the middle of the century does not justify large investments in costly adaptation measures under the navigability conditions predicted at present, we do stress the importance of good waterway maintenance for a smooth continuation of waterway transport on the Rhine and Danube rivers. Furthermore, we question the trend towards increasingly large vessels on the Rhine, as the benefit of increased carrying capacity may disappear under drier conditions. We point to the various technical and operational measures under development, which may, while not being cost-effective today, reduce the vulnerability of inland shipping to the natural variation in weather conditions in the near future. We also point to the limitations of our study, as results indicate that beyond 2050 the effects of climate change may intensify. In conclusion, there is a need to constantly monitor the state of the rivers, and further research is encouraged.



From 2010 to 2013


European Commission, FP7


via donau (Austria), VU-FEWEB (The Netherlands), NEA Transport Research and Training (The Netherlands), FUCaM, BfG (Germany), VITUKI (Hungary), OMSZ (Hungary), DST (Germany), KNMI (The Netherlands)

Our team

Veerle Vranckx, Tim Breemersch, Eef Delhaye, Christophe Heyndrickx, Kris Vanherle, Ignacio Hidalgo González
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