Ahead of the Curve: Giving Climate Change its Due Attention

Ahead of the Curve: Chen Chen

In this interview, ADB project officer Chen Chen talked about successfully retrofitting an approved project to include climate proofing measures, thereby reducing vulnerabilities.

Why did you promote the climate change assessment when it wasn't included in the original project preparation design?

I've always thought about climate proofing road projects since severe climate has long been regarded as the biggest enemy to road transport in Timor-Leste. I found out that ADB's Regional and Sustainable Development Department, specifically the Environmental and Social Safeguards Division (RSES), has a climate change adaptation team that provides operational support to help operational departments climate proof projects. So the logical next step was to ask their help.

Project preparation had already progressed significantly when you proposed the climate change assessment. Did you face any resistance from the Government?

There was no resistance but the Government didn't understand at first why climate change is relevant to a road project in Timor-Leste, given that the country doesn't contribute much to greenhouse gas emission. With a lot of consultations, meetings, and workshops, we reached the common conclusion that climate change adaptation is relevant to everyone, especially in Timor-Leste with its young geology vulnerable to severe climate.

What challenges did you face when conducting the climate change assessment?

We had a small budget and a short time frame to do the assessment, but it worked out okay. RSES helped us design the overall study and participated on a couple of missions. We procured climate data from Australia's CSIRO and hired a climate change specialist to do the modeling from overseas.

The bigger challenge was figuring out how the findings might be integrated into the work of the rest of the project design team. We had to postpone submission of the final consultant report to allow the team revisit the project design and incorporate climate proofing features into it.

How has the climate change assessment affected the design of the project?

I don't think the assessment changed the fundamental design of the project but it definitely strengthened it. For instance, we have proposed engineering measures to counter climate change impacts. Where the elevation of the road is so low that the sea will intrude on both sides of the road, we recommended relocating it. Where the road will be subject to risk of erosion from wave action, we recommended constructing an earth levee bank with rip-rap protection. To counter the expected intense storms, we recommended providing additional relief culverts and larger drains.

In addition, we're also proposing bioengineering measures, considered to be "no regret" or "low regret" adaptation activities. They are generally inexpensive, flexible, and reversible. For instance, we recommended reforesting unstable slopes, applying vegetated erosion control blankets to retain soil and sediments, or adding stone-filled nettings to stabilize riverbanks, slope toes, bridge aprons and the like.

By how much will the project cost increase with the inclusion of climate proofing measures?

We estimated a rough figure of 10% of base costs, which include both road rehabilitation costs and additional maintenance requirement caused by climate change. However, this estimate is based on the findings of the feasibility study. It will be validated and refined during detailed engineering.

How can ADB make it easier for other projects to mainstream climate change assessments into their designs?

While people's attention to climate change is growing fast, it isn't the easiest thing to find engineers and infrastructure economists with expertise in designing climate proofing infrastructure projects. I am working with climate change experts within ADB to further develop a methodology for designing such projects.

ADB can also consider a region-wide climate assessment for all regional member countries, and then establish a database with high resolution spatial reference. Project design teams might then directly extract such information and build climate proofing measures into their projects.