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ICE policy position statement: how can the UK’s infrastructure system be made more climate resilient?

Date
23 March 2023

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

Even with progress towards net zero carbon emissions targets, climate change is happening and will continue to develop.

In the most optimistic scenario, with all global pledges implemented, the world would be on a path to 1.5 degrees Celsius warming by the end of the century.

The UK’s infrastructure is facing pressures that, for the most part, it was not designed to withstand.

Without adaptation and improved emergency response to build in greater resilience, our infrastructure will lose its value, damage repairs will be costly and increasingly frequent, and infrastructure users will face high levels of disruption.

Responding effectively to the impacts of climate change will ensure we can protect our economic interests as well as our planet and its inhabitants.

This comes at a crucial time with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) publishing the third National Adaptation Programme later in 2023. It will set out the actions government and others will take to adapt to the challenges of climate change over a five-year period.

All this requires a proportionate response as investment needs to be targeted to where it will have the greatest impact.

It’s unrealistic to immediately adapt every piece of the infrastructure system in every location.

There will be a need for infrastructure owners and operators to manage public expectations about disruption to infrastructure networks brought on by climate change.

Given the many competing priorities for infrastructure investment, it’s important to get this right.

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

This policy position statement draws on the evidence received from the consultation as well as expert insight across the sector. It makes a number of recommendations in order to ensure that the UK is strengthened by the climate-resilient infrastructure it needs.

Policymakers can no longer keep kicking the can down the road when it comes to enacting real change to make the UK’s infrastructure system more resilient to the extremes we face both now and in the future.

The scale of the challenge facing us is not to be underestimated. However, by prioritising resilience and adaptation measures we can develop a stronger and more innovative infrastructure system.

Recommendations

Make the Adaptation Reporting Power of the UK Climate Change Act mandatory for infrastructure owners and operators.

Currently, adaptation reporting is mainly qualitative.

This makes it difficult for the government and regulators to compare the degree of preparedness of different infrastructure owners and operators, and focus on the less resilient.

Mandating quantitative assessment, including financial quantification of expected damages/losses or impacts in a ‘do nothing’ scenario, would focus resilience efforts on the most material risks and ensure a systems-thinking approach to infrastructure is embedded in policy development and infrastructure planning.

National Policy Statements should include a list of climate hazards and desired standards of protection for selected climate scenarios.

The UK government’s National Infrastructure Strategy indicates that national infrastructure must be resilient to future climate change and cost-effective mitigations should be incorporated over the whole life cycle of the asset.

In general, nationally significant infrastructure projects take account of flood risk and the impact of climate change on it, but other climate hazards are not always assessed.

This information gap should be filled by detailed information about climate risk in National Policy Statements.

The UK government should undertake a national review of the economics of adaptation.

In order to incentivise investment in infrastructure climate resilience and adaptation, we must first understand the value it provides.

One of the challenges with making it a priority is that it doesn’t have a market value – currently, it’s not measured or rewarded.

In addition, it’s not clear how the regulatory framework which sets out the parameters for funding these investments values resilience.

This requires an economic review of resilience and adaptation, led by HM Treasury – this can then feed into developing the resilience standards the government has already committed to in its National Resilience Framework.

Infrastructure owners and operators should be encouraged consider the interconnectivity of infrastructure systems and to use connected digital twins to understand how critical infrastructure assets work as part of a wider system.

To date, there has been a focus on understanding climate risks at an asset scale, particularly new assets.

More effort is needed to understand how infrastructure assets work together in a system.

Digital approaches such as connected digital twins have potential for closing this data gap.

ICE policy position statement: how can the UK’s infrastructure system be made more climate resilient?

Content type: Policy

Last updated: 22/03/2023

Author: ICE policy team

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