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Is the UK’s critical national infrastructure prepared for climate change?

David Thompson, ASC Senior Analyst

By David Thompson, Senior Analyst

The health of the nation’s critical infrastructure in energy, transport, water, sewage and ICT is vital to the performance of the UK’s economy and for our general quality of life.  Much of the UK’s infrastructure has been in place for decades, even centuries, and was designed to operate in our current climate.  Projected changes in the UK’s future climate, such as warmer, drier summers and wetter, milder winters could have significant implications for how well our infrastructure delivers in the future.

The level of investment required for both upgrading existing infrastructure and providing new infrastructure in the UK is expected to increase in coming decades, in response to socio-economic changes, the need to move to a low-carbon economy and the replacement of ageing infrastructure.  It has been estimated by Infrastructure UK that an average of £40-50 billion will need to be spent every year between now and 2030.  A substantial proportion of new infrastructure will be in use long after 2030, so the risks from climate change should be factored in to their design and siting and where necessary adaptation measures incorporated to help ensure their resilience.  At the same time, a flexible approach is needed to guard against the risk of ‘over-investing’ in measures that may prove to have been unnecessary or ineffective.

In a recent speech to a conference of industry experts looking at the future of utilities, the ASC’s Chair Lord Krebs stated that

“The provision of national infrastructure is an adaptation priority for the UK.  However, in our first report, the ASC noted that investment decisions do not always take into account the costs and benefits over the full lifetime of infrastructure.   Businesses and investors should take climate change into account for long-lasting decisions when planning and designing the UK’s infrastructure”.

The ASC is undertaking further analysis of how investment decisions in the water sector are accounting for long-term climate risks.  This will be published as part of our wider assessment of the UK’s preparedness for climate change in July.