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Benn: Engineers need to remedy changing climate

Making Britain resilient to a changing climate will depend on the engineering sector’s response, according to environment secretary Hilary Benn.

Speaking at a joint Defra and Engineering the Future Conference, Benn called on the sector to lead the way in building Britain’s future infrastructure - from transport networks to nuclear power stations to withstand the changes to our climate.

“The floods of last month, and the collapse of bridges, show us how much a resilient infrastructure matters. Protecting ourselves against negative impacts, and also taking advantage of the benefits of a changing climate, is all part of building Britain’s future.

“The UK’s engineering sector is vital to tackling this challenge and is well-placed to design and engineer climate resilient and low carbon infrastructure for global markets, as well as the UK.”

Defra predicts warmer and wetter winters, hotter and drier summers, increased risk of coastal erosion and more severe weather events such as flooding and heat waves.

All 10 of the hottest years on record globally have been since 1990, and extreme weather appears to be on the rise, as last week’s floods in Cumbria show.

ICE President, Paul Jowitt, said: “In the past week we have seen the destruction that infrastructure failure can cause and how dependent we are on the whole infrastructure network. It is crucial that we adapt and develop this network to withstand the inevitable future threats facing it.

“Climate change is not only about reducing emissions – it is one of the biggest threats facing the UK’s infrastructure and will present some major challenges. These challenges will require innovative solutions from the engineering community and joined up thinking with Government. We are confident that by acting now and working together, we can adapt our infrastructure to improve its resilience and reduce our vulnerability to crisis,” he said.

Senior Vice President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Professor Robert Mair, said: “Resilience in the face of climate change is a challenge all engineers must rise to. In partnership with our customers, policy makers and the users of the infrastructure we provide, engineers can provide the solutions that will protect us from the worst effects of climate change.

“This is essential to maintaining and developing our modern way of life, as well as sharing the benefits of progress equitably across the world. The challenge has never been greater for engineering,” he said.

Readers' comments (18)

  • Data from the last 10 years does not support the global warming hypothesis. Lots of my fellow engineers are as unconvinced as I am about the hype perpetuated in NCE. You should present a more balanced view.

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  • Alan Sim

    Hold on a minute, lets not all get caught up in this. What Mr Benn is asking for is already provided. Any new infrastructure over exdisting watercourses will no doubt be well engineered for future flood patterns. This is controlled by the Environment Agency in many respects.
    The issues we have had in last few weeks are related to historical infrastructure, and masonry arch structures in particular. Unless Mr Benn relaxes the grip of the planners, conservationists and English Heritage (and the public) then we will continue to have these problems well into the future.
    As a Bridge Engineer I know first hand how difficult it is just to repair and modernise any existing arch structures, no matter what classification of road over. To replace all the vulnerable arch structures is nigh on impossible. We'll just have to train any heavy flows through these bridges best we can and inspect them regularly, especially after heavy flooding.
    As for the Government's financial assistance for this, its not even going to scratch the surface. Local authority maintenance budgets are continually stretched and barely cover the absolute minimum.

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  • I have just had lunch with a friend whose grandfather came from Cumbria. The old man's diary recalls floods over a century ago
    Climate Change AKA Global Warming AKA CO2 has nothing to do with the current floods. Extreme weather events are not increased by the current warming. - rather the opposite (see Florida University). It is the weather. Just the weather

    How anyone can reasonably say that man's influence on climate is harmful after reading how the CRU and NASA have been massaging the figures to fabricate data to show inflated warming when there is only slight warming?

    We need to step back and look at the facts. We need to debate coolly whether man's influence on climate is:-
    a) significant and
    b) whether we can do anything about it.

    I think Bellamy and Barrett got it just about right (see proceedings May 2007) - "if we burn all the known fossil fuel we will put up global temperature just 1.5C". This will do us no harm. Let us attack real problems that engineers can tackle, like clean water for the third world!

    Before anyone takes me to task please explain why the IPCC AR4 temperature chart that shows +3.2C at 560 ppm also shows +1.5C at today's 385 ppm when the actual figure is +0.6 C . This is just 40% of the IPCC estimate. We have been conned. It is time to ignore the Alarmists.

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  • How should the NCE present a more balanced view? By not reporting the statements made by the Environment Secretatary, the ICE President and the RAE Vice-President?

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  • By selectively reporting pro global warming the NCE does its readership a disservice. Articles by Anthony Oliver appear every week in NCE on the topic with always the same biased theme and without any representation of more rational views exemplified by Alan Sim above.
    The Environment Secretary, ICE President and RAE Vice-President all have political agendas. But NCE is well known for close scrutiny of construction stories and can not have the same excuse. I expect better from NCE (which I pay for through my ICE subscription and therefore have some entitlement in the matter).

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  • The gloabal warming debate inputs into the drivers of what we all do. The debate seems one-sided because dissenters have not been winning the debate. Anthony Oliver is using his editorial perogative to discuss global warming. Alan Sim has indeed given a rational view, not on global warming, but on elements of the Env Sec's speech and their effects upon his field of engineering. The Env Sec obviously has a political agenda with a capital P, but surely the ICE President & the RAE VP 's polictical agendas must surely be very small p?

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  • I agree with Chris Johnson. To question evidence for climate change or man's contribution is prefectly reasonable and proper. But we have to acknowledege the consensus that exists amongst the overwhelming majority of those who actually conduct research in these fields. It is simply not rational to suggest the whole world is being "conned", nor to dismiss any authority expressing the established view as having a "political agenda". In the light of the current scientific consensus it is right for NCE, as well as our policy-makers, to be vocal in expressing the enormous significance of the issues and the role we must play in confronting them.

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  • The leaked East Anglia emails suggest that indeed we are being conned. I have access to reliable scientific research about melting of the polar icecaps and know the scare stories on the BBC and the rest of the media are just not true. Same goes for sea level rises. I'd prefer to think for myself thank you very much.


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  • Ah ha! Now I see a clue to someone's political agenda ;o)

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  • Don't know if Mr Anonymous is talking about me but the research I refer to is in regard to the Panama Canal Extension. USD 3 billion would not be spent upgrading the canal if there was a realistic case for a northern shipping route any time soon. How do you do that wink thing at the end of your email. I've always wondered.

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