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Infrastructure blog

IPW: IPCC warns about climate inaction effects on infrastructure

01 March 2022

In this fortnightly blog, ICE's Director of Policy Chris Richards looks at developing policy landscape for infrastructure, what decisions mean, and their implications, so that infrastructure professionals can play their part in shaping the discussion.

IPW: IPCC warns about climate inaction effects on infrastructure
Climate change is increasingly damaging infrastructure systems globally, with adverse impacts in all regions. Image credit: Arun S/Shutterstock

IPCC report warns about irreversible impact of climate change

In their Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a stark warning to the world of unavoidable climate change impacts over the coming decades, some of which will not be reversible.

The report explores what that change means for 'human systems', highlighting damages to infrastructure and cities by the sea as some of the most pronounced effects of a worsening climate.

Importantly, weather extremes are happening simultaneously, reverberating across human systems and making the effects more and more challenging to manage and predict.

Faster action is needed on adaptation to climate change alongside mitigation efforts. This is a key focus of COP27 later this year.

According to the IPCC: "So far, progress on adaptation is uneven, and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks, the new report finds. These gaps are largest among lower-income populations."

However, in a sign of some hope, the IPCC report outlines that multiple climate-resilient development pathways (the process of implementing greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation measures to support sustainable development) are still possible. However, the window is rapidly narrowing.

The report also stresses the importance of repairing degraded natural ecosystems to unlock nature's potential to reduce climate risks and improve human systems.

On infrastructure, the report finds:

  • Climate change is increasingly damaging infrastructure systems globally, with adverse impacts in all regions.
  • Infrastructure, including transportation, water, sanitation and energy systems, have been compromised by extreme and slow-onset events, with resulting economic losses, disruptions of services and impacts to wellbeing.
  • Key infrastructure systems including sanitation, water, health, transport, communications and energy will be increasingly vulnerable if design standards do not account for changing climate conditions.
  • Costs for maintenance and reconstruction of urban infrastructure, including building, transportation, and energy will increase with global warming level.
  • Considering climate change impacts and risks in the design and planning of urban and rural settlements and infrastructure is critical for resilience and enhancing human wellbeing.

ICE’s view

Climate resilience is rapidly rising up the political agenda as IPCC and other organisations outline the looming impact on lives and livelihoods with a higher degree of confidence.

This report reinforces three things: the need for infrastructure investment programmes that support climate-resilient development (joint action on mitigation and adaptation), the role of nature as a solution if ecosystems are repaired and the need to act now, as it will cost more in the long run.

Our recent presidential roundtable on climate resilience explored the size of the challenge regarding climate resilience and infrastructure.

In case you missed it...

  • As politicians start to look long-term, we’ve published an update to our High Speed 2 insight paper exploring the costs and benefits of the project.
  • Read the previous Infrastructure Policy Watch on India’s Budget and US efforts to build an electric vehicle charging network.

Check back in a fortnight for the next edition of the ICE's Infrastructure Policy Watch. You can also sign up to ICE Informs to get a monthly digest of the latest policy activities from ICE, including calls for evidence to support our ongoing advice to policymakers.

  • Chris Richards, director of policy at Institution of Civil Engineers