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4 ways the UK's infrastructure can be made more climate resilient

23 March 2023

The ICE’s latest policy paper makes recommendations on how the UK can strengthen the resilience of its infrastructure system.

4 ways the UK's infrastructure can be made more climate resilient
Increasingly extreme temperatures, flooding, and high winds have highlighted the extent to which the UK's infrastructure is vulnerable to failure. Image credit: Shutterstock

Climate-related disasters across the world have focused attention on the need for climate-adaptive and resilient infrastructure.

Last year, the ICE launched a consultation seeking views on how the UK’s infrastructure can be made more climate resilient.

Responses from experts across the infrastructure sector highlighted that maintaining the current status quo and trying to alleviate infrastructure problems with quick fixes isn’t enough.

The UK's infrastructure will need to be designed and operated in a way that copes better with today’s extremes and is resilient to the more ‘extreme extremes’ of the future.

The scale of the challenge facing the UK is not to be underestimated.

However, by prioritising resilience and adaptation measures, the UK can develop a stronger infrastructure system and better outcomes for the public.

Read the full ICE paper

Here are the ICE's four key recommendations, based on the insights from the consultation.

1. Making the Adaptation Reporting Power mandatory

Infrastructure operates as a system of systems. This means that a systems-thinking approach to resilience and adaptation is needed.

Climate resilience and adaptation must be considered and prioritised during the development of policy and legislation by the government.

It’s important for the Adaptation Reporting Power, part of the UK Climate Change Act, to become mandatory for infrastructure owners and operators.

This will ensure organisations are taking the appropriate action to improve resilience against the impacts of climate change.

However, more guidance will be needed on how to measure and quantify resilience for the infrastructure owners and operators that would be submitting reports on their assets.

2. Better understanding of existing infrastructure – and its weaknesses

There’s currently a prominent gap in understanding of physical climate risks to the UK's infrastructure.

Many of the current critical infrastructure assets have been designed based on historical needs and predictions, now outdated by the evolving climate challenges facing the UK.

Current weak spots for the UK's infrastructure system include impacts generated by higher prolonged temperatures, drought, and increased wind speeds. Utilities infrastructure is also threatened by coastal flooding and wind damages.

The UK needs to first understand how to better maintain the condition of existing infrastructure to increase resilience in the future.

Knowledge sharing between the engineering community can play a critical role in providing this information.

In the future, National Policy Statements that highlight the number of climate risks and plan for specific climate scenarios and the necessary protections required for each scenario must be developed.

By analysing these risks and how they can be mitigated, measures can be put in place to meet the needs of future communities and protect national critical infrastructure.

3. Investing in the economics of resilience

Investment in resilience and adaptation is essential to protect the UK from natural disasters.

It cannot be seen as an additional ‘nice to have’ once key project outputs have been delivered.

Infrastructure climate resilience and adaptation provides enormous value – however, currently, it doesn’t have a measurable market value.

A full, national scale economic review of resilience and adaptation led by the UK Treasury is needed to define this market value and incentivise investment in resilience.

4. Using technology as the key to future resilience

Data-driven technologies provide a huge opportunity to strengthen the climate resilience of UK infrastructure.

Digital twin technologies can build evidence and highlight the impacts of possible future policy decisions, as well as retrospectively measure the impact of those already in progress.

Digital twins can also close the data gap to help us understand how infrastructure assets work together as part of a wider system.

The UK needs to work out how it can use this data most effectively and reassure infrastructure operators that this data isn't only safe and reliable, but can lead to developing world-leading infrastructure standards.

Read the full ICE paper

  • Laura Cunliffe-Hall, interim lead policy manager at ICE