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Defra sets out climate change risks for infrastructure

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) today published the first reports from its series that identify risks to the UK’s infrastructure from the effects of climate change.

Roads, railways, energy and water supply networks and other infrastructure all need to be able to cope with the effects of a changing climate. The first batch in a series of reports produced by organisations which maintain national infrastructure and published by Defra today set out potential risks and solutions.

Reports from seven organisations including Network Rail, National Grid and the Highways Agency were carried out at the request of Defra under the Climate Change Act to ensure that organisations with a crucial role in running the country’s infrastructure are preparing for the threats and opportunities which climate change will pose.

Speaking ahead of a visit today to sea defences which protect the arterial South West railway line at Dawlish in Devon environment minister Lord Henley said:

“It is crucial that major organisations with key roles in keeping the country running are alive to the risks that a changing climate will have on their business, because they need to start planning for how they’re going to adapt. Defra commissioned these reports so that we could understand how prepared the providers of key services are, and focus their minds on taking action.

“Business as usual is not an option, and planning now will prevent a lot of expense down the line when the projections of climate change become a reality. Businesses of all sizes need to assess how climate change could affect them.”

Network Rail principal engineer on climate change John Dora said: “Britain’s railway today is resilient to adverse weather but to safeguard its future we must continue to stay prepared in managing the impact from a changing climate. At Network Rail, we are ahead of the game with a clear climate change adaptation strategy. We are currently working with RSSB in pioneering an impact analysis study and a modelling tool to understand the impact of climate change on the railway. This also means that we are able to start early dialogues and debates with key stakeholders, including the Environment Agency and the Department for Transport, to influence changes that are vital to protect our railway.”

In total 91 organisations will be asked to submit reports to Defra over the next year. Risks identified in the reports and measures planned to address them include:

  • Potential for increased flooding of rail tracks, stations and depots; tracks buckling in high temperatures, train failure in the heat and maintenance hindered by adverse weather. Network Rail are investing in coastal flood defences and better drainage at priority locations, and is planning to develop specific adaptation strategies for each rail route
  • 13 electricity substations are at risk of flooding from a “1 in a 100 year” flood. National Grid is preparing a scheme to provide additional defences at these sites
  • Roads deteriorating more quickly due to increases in average temperatures and more frequent extreme weather, resulting in the need for more repairs and more expensive and robust road designs. This can be combated by changing standards and specifications used in roads building
  • Lighthouses becoming more at risk of falling into the sea due to coastal erosion or storm surges, or unusable through rising sea levels. More adaptation work – such as the new foundations fitted at The Needles lighthouse to protect against a possible one metre sea level rise – may be needed
  • Gas pipes could become exposed and leak through subsidence, river erosion or coastal erosion. National Grid is using drilling techniques when placing pipes under rivers to reduce the risk of erosion and old metallic pipes are being replaced with polyethylene pipes which are less brittle
  • Rising temperatures and changes to natural habitats will put pressure on wildlife, particularly marine species, which will not have time to adapt. Fish may need to be helped to migrate by building more fish passes to help them overcome man made barriers such as flood defences, and hydropower stations. Some rare lake dwelling fish may also need to be relocated from the Lake District to more suitable northerly locations
  • An increased fire risk in woodland and on moors from hotter, drier summers. Changes to agriculture could lead to loss of traditional features such as hedgerows.

Over the next 12 months Defra will be publishing the remaining reports from sectors including water utilities, rail companies, major airports, harbour authorities and economic regulators.

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