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Need for infrastructure climate adaptation is "urgent"

“Urgent action” is required to protect critical infrastructure from the effects of climate change, environment secretary Caroline Spelman warned today.

Planning and design will need to take into account the impact which more extreme weather will have on essential services such as transport networks and power supplies, she said, otherwise the economy could suffer.

However, the inter-institutional Engineering the Future group − representing nearly half a million engineers − said there must be a balance between the need to adapt and the economic constraints of the current investment climate.

“We welcome Government’s recognition that adapting energy, transport, communications and water networks to accommodate the impacts of climate change requires a systems level approach to prevent disruption to one sector causing cascade failures across others.

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

“It is important to recognise the difference between adapting networks to deal with long-term climate changes and trying to protect assets against all possible extreme weather events.”

Speaking at Blackfriars Station in London, which is undergoing extensive reconstruction work, Spelman said: “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.

“£200bn is expected to be invested in the UK’s infrastructure over the next five years. But if the facilities which support our society cannot cope with floods, droughts, or freezing winters then that money will have been wasted.”

“Infrastructure assets often have lives of at least 50-100 years so they need to be designed to function long into the future when the climate is projected to be very different.

“This presents great opportunities for British businesses to develop new technologies and processes in engineering, planning and consultancy, ICT-based technologies, renewable energy, investment, and insurance.”

The stark message was delivered at the publication of Climate Resilient Infrastructure, a cross government report which outlines the challenges to the transport, energy, water and ICT sectors.

The report also sets out what action needs to be taken by infrastructure owners and operators, regulators, insurers and Government.

Actions identified in the report to prepare infrastructure for a changing climate include:

  • Owners and operators of infrastructure should include measures to improve climate resilience in the maintenance schedules for their assets, and ensure climate impacts are considered in the design of new infrastructure;
  • Potential infrastructure investors should demand more information from companies on the climate risks to their assets and measures taken to reduce them as part of their ‘due diligence’ processes;
  • Professional bodies should consider if their members have the right skills to help prepare infrastructure for climate change; and
  • Engineers should look to develop new materials, techniques and designs to improve the resilience of infrastructure projects to severe weather.

The £550M redevelopment of London Blackfriars Station has given significant consideration to the long term implications of climate change. The new station will be fitted with sustainability technology such as sun pipes, rain harvesting systems, thermal insulation, and Photovoltaic (PV) cell solar panels to decrease its reliance on other infrastructure such as water and electricity networks.

Network Rail Director of Investment Projects, Simon Kirby, said:

“As a business we recognise the challenges of climate change and have a responsibility to consider this in the planning, construction and delivery of significant rail projects.

“The use of PV cells on the landmark London Blackfriars redevelopment is a major step that underlines our commitment to meeting this challenge.”

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