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Climate change and under-investment threaten UK

Climate change to become major factor on infrastructure, say engineers.

Engineers last week welcomed government calls for climate change resilience to be built into UK infrastructure projects.

But they stressed that successful action from the report will only be achieved if projects are planned properly and costed transparently from their inception.

A new approach to project planning emerged in the cross- government report Climate Resilient Infrastructure:Preparing for a Changing Climate published last week.

An alliance of over half a million engineers, the Engineering the Future (EtF) group, contributed to the studies that led to the release of the report.

“We must determine what level of investment we are willing to make, because the cost of providing ‘always on’ services will be high”

David Nikols, EtF steering group


EtF steering group member David Nickols said “we welcome the recognition that adapting energy, transport, communications and water networks to accommodate climate change requires a systems-level approach to prevent disruption to one sector causing cascade failures across others. This must be driven by regulatory and policy frameworks that encourage and support industry.”

Nickols also warned that the public must be kept informed of the potential costs of future-proofing infrastructure.

“We must determine what level of investment we are willing to make, because the cost of providing ‘always on’ services will be high. And it’s the public that must absorb this cost in the long-term.”

Call from industry

The report came in response to calls from industry for a firm government policy on adapting infrastructure to be fit for Britain’s changing climate.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change’s UK climate projections suggest that hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters are set to become the norm.

With a substantial proportion of the infrastructure built over the next five years set to be in use well beyond 2030, current planning and building regulations must accommodate an unpredictable environment.

Need to work together

The report concluded that companies, governments, and engineering bodies will have to work together to mitigate the potential effects of climate change, but warned that “regulation, rightly, has a strong emphasis on short-term value for money,” and that “economic regulators and infrastructure companies must work together to help reduce the risk of ‘over-adapting’.”

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman said the £200bn earmarked over the next five years for infrastructure will be “wasted” if longer-term strategies are not put in place against climate change. “Our economy is built
on effective transport and communications networks and reliable energy and water supplies,”
she said.

“But the economy cannot grow if there are repeated power failures, or goods cannot be transported because roads are flooded and railways have buckled, or if intense rainfall or high temperatures disrupt wi-fi signals.”


Proposed actions


  • Incorporate climate change impacts in ‘due diligence’ processes
  • Demand greater disclosure of climate risk and adaptation action by infrastructure organisations

Infrastructure owners and operators

  • Embed adaptation in the organisation and its decision-making
  • Integrate adaptation into existing infrastructure maintenance regimes
  • Consider climate change impacts in design, build and operation of new infrastructure


  • Balance current and future consumer interests by aligning climate resilience alongside short-term objectives of efficiency and value for money


  • Develop new ways to design and build climate resilient infrastructure
  • Develop new skills and expertise in adapting infrastructure to create marketable skills and solutions



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