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Climate Adaptation

The World’s Roads Aren’t Ready for a Hotter Climate

Global warming is damaging the vast web of asphalt and concrete we use to move around. Fixing the problem won’t be cheap.

As average temperatures rise and heat waves become more frequent and intense, it’s become clear that infrastructure and in particular roads are vulnerable to accelerating global warming.

As average temperatures rise and heat waves become more frequent and intense, it’s become clear that infrastructure and in particular roads are vulnerable to accelerating global warming.

Photographer: Robert Michael/Picture Alliance/Getty Images

The historic heat wave that’s smothered western Europe this summer has caused transportation chaos. Railroad tracks warped, airport runways failed and key roads buckled. On July 18, the busy A14 highway in Cambridge, England, was shut down after developing a bizarre ridge that, while enticing to skateboarders, would be calamitous to fast-moving cars and their passengers.

As it happens, the same thing has been occurring across America, Australia, China and Africa. With average temperatures rising and heat waves becoming more frequent and intense, infrastructure and in particular roads are increasingly vulnerable to human-induced global warming. A 2017 study assessing the impacts of the climate crisis on critical infrastructure found that by 2080, heat waves would account for about 92% of total hazard damage in Europe’s transport sector alone, in large part because the roads were built for cooler times.