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How can engineers make use of the UK government’s climate projections report?

02 May 2019

How engineers plan for unprecedented change and uncertainty is becoming ever more critical. Greg Guthrie, ICE Maritime Expert Panel, discusses the new ICE briefing sheet on the government's most recent climate change projections. 

How can engineers make use of the UK government’s climate projections report?
How should engineers incorporate new climate projections into their work?

How engineers and infrastructure professionals respond to climate change has to be based on the best and most up-to-date information.

On 1 May 2019, the UK Parliament approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency.

In November 2018 the UK Meteorological Office released the UK Climate Projections 2018 (UKCP18). This work used cutting-edge climate science to provide updated observations and climate change projections out to 2100 in the UK and globally.

To highlight the most relevant information for the profession, an ICE project team has produced a briefing sheet, offering advice for engineers on how they can best use the UKCP18 report.

What will the new projections mean?

Despite the complexity associated with developing these projections, that's only the start of the challenge for civil engineers: incorporating this evidence in our approach to design and thinking.

These challenges pose questions for areas such as coastal management over issues such as adaptation.

They raise a range of issues including:

  • how we plan for uncertainty over different timescales
  • ensuring good value for money now but with an eye to the future-proofing of present-day investment
  • ensuring decisions made now do not lead down unsustainable blind alleys

The government’s new climate projections raise issues that can only be addressed through more collaborative planning, involving communities and wider society alongside the expertise of other professions.

There's a need for an attitudinal change in the way in which we plan for the future, recognising the inherent complexities and interdependencies within society. This doesn't mean fearing change, but recognising that we need to deliver now the solutions for tomorrow.

There is of course a fundamental need for mitigation of the causes of climate change, but how we respond to, and plan for, those effects already built into the global system is equally vital. Adaptation is the other side of the same coin as mitigation.

Building from the past into the future with a different perspective

Civil engineering is traditionally informed by our experience of the past.

However, with potential increase in global mean temperature quite possibly within the range of 2.0 to 3.7 degrees C by the end of this century, with sea level rise likely to be in the order 1m (or even 2m under the H++ scenario) over a similar time period and the increasing risk of droughts alongside more periods of more intense rainfall, we enter a new playing field.

Many of our lessons learnt will need to be re-learnt differently. We can no longer rely purely on past experience to define what the future holds.

The ICE UKCP18 briefing sheet aims, in part, to highlight aspects of the latest climate change projections.

But it also highlights the need to increase awareness generally throughout the membership, in rebooting or review of strategic documents and by embedding the consideration of climate change in professional thought, such that the ICE and its members can take a leading position in reshaping attitudes and deliver our aim to see the world from a different perspective.

  • Greg Guthrie, Coastal Engineer, Royal HaskoningDHV