The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has published a series of recommendations in a report for policy makers entitled, How can the UK’s infrastructure system be made more climate resilient?
The recommendations have been drawn from a consultation led by the ICE that invited civil engineers and professionals in adjacent industries, as well as civil society groups and other stakeholders to share insights on the UK’s infrastructure’s climate resilience readiness.
Chief among the consultation’s findings is the strong consensus amongst experts that the UK’s infrastructure is not ready for climate change.
This is largely because much of the UK’s infrastructure system has been designed based on historical needs and predictions, making it outdated for the population it currently serves and the evolving climate challenges society faces.
To create a plan, government and industry need more information
To address this lack of preparedness, collecting more data is essential.
The ICE’s top recommendation to plug the data gap is to make it mandatory for all infrastructure owners and operators to report on the likely current and future impacts of climate change on their organisation and/or assets, and their proposals for adapting those assets under the Climate Change Act.
Currently, under the same act, adaptation reporting is optional, and the information received is mainly qualitative. This makes it difficult for government and regulators to compare different infrastructure systems’ varying degrees of readiness.
To effectively plan and prepare for climate change, policy makers and regulators must understand which elements of the UK’s infrastructure need the most work – these pieces of infrastructure, or infrastructure systems should be prioritised.
There is no quick fix
The report is clear that the scale of the problem means that government and industry will not be able to address every issue quickly. Rather, the UK’s most vulnerable and most essential infrastructure must be prioritised. This may mean that some service levels are impacted.
David Smith, ICE Fellow and Chair of its Sustainable Resilient Infrastructure Community Advisory Board, and Senior Vice President, Director of Strategy at Stantec, said:
“We need to adapt our infrastructure for climate change as soon as possible, because we know conditions are going to become more extreme. To plan how to do that, we need a clear picture of what our vulnerabilities are.
“Once we understand the true condition of all of our infrastructure system, industry, government, and regulators can work together to prioritise adaptation measures.
“However, the public needs to know it won’t all be a quick fix. Government and infrastructure owners need to communicate clearly about why we need to adapt our most at-risk infrastructure first, and how this could potentially impact overall service levels.”
The paper makes several other recommendations for policy makers. These include undertaking a national review on the economics of adaptation measures and including additional climate hazards and clearer protection standards in National Policy Statements.
The report also recommends that infrastructure owners and operators should be encouraged to consider the interconnectivity of infrastructure systems and use connected digital twins to understand how intertwined assets work as part of a system.
This is important to understand because of the risk of cascade failure in an extreme event.
David Smith said:
“To ensure that our infrastructure is ready for the changes we know are coming, we need to work together and take a systems-led approach. Only by looking at the problem as a whole can we effectively plan how to address it.”
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Maggie Eckel, Media Relations Manager