The International Transport Forum (ITF) 2023 was held in Leipzig, Germany.

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Multimedia Editor

LEIPZIG, Germany — Road, railway, and port infrastructure in the Philippines are among those most at risk of multihazard damage caused by climate change, according to experts at the International Transport Forum (ITF).

“In the Philippines, up to 25,000 kilometers of roads are exposed to increased flooding by 2050 if global emissions continue to rise,” said Sudhir Gota, co-team leader of Asia Transport Outlook, in an interview with BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the ITF Summit 2023 on May 25.

Citing data from the latest Asia Transport Outlook report, he said that the projected annual damage to roads and railways in the Philippines may reach as much as $410 million a year.

To compare, Indonesia may incur up to $730 million worth of damage to roads and railways, while Vietnam may face up to $465 million worth of damage.

Projected annual damage to roads and railways are also significant in other Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar ($293 million), Thailand ($149 million), and Malaysia ($99 million).

Mr. Sudhir said the Philippines also needs to strengthen its ports against the impact of climate change, as the projected damage may reach up to $196 million — the highest among its peers. To compare, Vietnam’s ports may face up to $128 million in damage, followed by Indonesia ($70 million), Thailand ($31 million), Malaysia ($27 million), and Myanmar ($15 million).

The Philippines accounts for 42% of potential damage due to hazards in Southeast Asia, he said.

He also noted that disruptions caused by climate hazards can result in downtime at ports, which would hamper the flow of goods.

Among countries in Asia, the Philippines has the highest share of trades at risk due to climate hazards, at 1.3%, followed by China and Vietnam with less than 1.2% each, he said.

While Philippine ports are improving, Mr. Sudhir said there is a need to build resilience due to future threats arising from climate change.

“Resilience means developing a green port plan, a climate adaptation strategy, particularly to make the ports resilient against rising sea levels… You need to strengthen your ports against these risks, which implies that for building resilience for your ports, you will require a significant investment,” he said.

In a presentation, Stefanie Sohm, a transport consultant for the Asian Development Bank (ADB)-United Nations Centre for Regional Development, said that the transportation sector in Asia may hinder the attainment of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the objectives outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Sought for comment, James A. Leather, the chief of the Transport Sector Group at the Asian Development Bank, said: “If we don’t take better action, we won’t achieve those goals, whether it’s aligning with the Paris Agreement, addressing climate change, or meeting the SDGs.”

One of the challenges is fulfilling the substantial investment requirements, he noted.

“Let’s take the Philippines, for instance, where numerous rural communities lack adequate access due to the country’s archipelago nature,” he said.

“The question arises: Where should the investment be directed? Should it be focused on Manila or spread across rural areas? The investment needs to be widespread, but the available capital for such ventures is limited, considering that the needs outweigh the available funding.”

Mr. Leather said this presents a roadblock because, unless investments increase, these projects will be competing with power generation, hospitals, schools, and other sectors.

Mr. Leather noted that the significant underinvestment in infrastructure over the last two to three decades has been addressed by both the previous and current administrations.

“The continuity between the last administration and the current administration’s shift from ‘Build, Build, Build’ to ‘Build, Better, More’ is absolutely fantastic because a long-term goal in infrastructure investments is essential,” he said.

The Philippine government is targeting an infrastructure spending-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio of 5-6% annually through 2028.

This year, the government plans to spend 5.3% of GDP on infrastructure, equivalent to P1.29 trillion.