The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has launched a green paper and consultation entitled, How can the UK’s infrastructure be made more climate resilient? to gather insight on how the UK needs to adapt its infrastructure for climate change and plan more resilient infrastructure for the future.
Recent weather events, like last summer’s record-breaking heatwave, show that climate change is happening now.
If carbon emissions continue to rise unabated, the world is on a path to warm by at least 1.5 degrees between 2030 and 2052.
Even with all COP27 pledges implemented, a warming world is inevitable.
This means that the UK needs to take steps to adapt and improve its existing infrastructure to be more climate resilient as soon as possible.
It also needs to begin planning more climate resilient infrastructure, alongside efforts to reach net zero.
The cost of not adapting infrastructure
The World Bank estimates that the cost of building climate-resilient infrastructure will be at least $11-$65 billion a year by 2030 for low- and middle-income countries.
However, the economic benefits of climate change adaptation are likely to be considerably higher than its costs.
Despite this, investment in adapting infrastructure to prepare for climate change remains low.
Only about 4-8% of climate finance is going into adaptation, but overall costs will be higher if we are not prepared for anticipated changes.
Understanding the challenge
One of the biggest problems to address is the lack of data.
Evidence about the cost of inaction is scarce, but so is information about adaptation needs, particularly the availability of data that can reveal the interdependencies that exist across infrastructure sectors.
Gathering more information about how different infrastructure systems are connected and reliant on each other is essential to plan more effectively for the future.
For example, with the UK becoming more reliant on renewable energy like wind power, how would the country fare if it faced increased periods of wind drought due to climate change?
This is not a hypothetical situation but a consequence of climate change that is already happening.
Changing weather means changing infrastructure needs
Over the course of 2022, wind power created 28% of our electricity and coal just 1.6%.
But in December 2022, the UK experienced a wind drought that was pronounced enough to require gas power stations to increase production to meet demand.
Wind generated just 3.4% of our energy on Monday 12 December 2022, even less than coal on that day (3.6%).
The government is committed to increasing wind energy production and to turning off gas and coal power stations by 2035, so it’s critical that we understand how energy needs will be met when weather-dependent renewable energy is not an option.
The impacts of extreme climate impact all infrastructure and we need to think of resilience ‘in the round’ – across the whole infrastructure system.
Without the information needed to develop systems-wide and regional-wide response strategies we could miss out on the best opportunities to increase resilience and face increased risk of cascade failures.
David Smith, ICE Fellow and chair of its sustainable resilient infrastructure community advisory board, and senior vice president, director of strategy at Stantec, who is chairing the consultation, said: ‘It’s clear that regardless of our progress toward our net zero goals, we need to be ready for climate change no matter what.
Industry is used to building for extremes, but the definition and the frequency of weather extremes has shifted in recent years.
We are going to experience more extreme weather events in the future, and we need to understand how to adapt existing infrastructure, how to build and adapt for our future needs, and who is responsible for making the decisions required.’
Information needed to act
The institution is seeking written responses on seven key questions to gather expert insight on the polices required to adapt our existing infrastructure, plan more resilient infrastructure for the future, and determine who is responsible for the overall climate resiliency of the UK’s infrastructure.
Civil engineers and professionals in adjacent industries, as well as civil society groups and other stakeholders, are invited to respond to the consultation in writing at the link below.
The consultation is open until Friday, 27 January.
Insights gathered as part of the consultation process will inform an ICE policy paper later this year, which will aim to provide a series of options and recommendations for policy makers to answer these questions and plan more infrastructure that is ready for our changing climate.
For more information, contact
Maggie Eckel, media relations manager
Notes for editors