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The nation’s infrastructure in energy, transport, water, sewage and ICT is vital to the performance of the UK economy and for our population’s general quality of life.  Much of the UK’s critical infrastructure has been in place for decades, even centuries, and has been designed to operate in a cooler climate.

Climate change is already evident in the UK, for instance average temperatures in central England having risen by 1oC since the 1970s.  Adapting to climate change is about both risks and opportunities: risks of not making the right decisions now for the future, and opportunities for business to create new skills and expertise for the UK and overseas market.

It is essential that investment in new national infrastructure takes account of how the climate may change in the future, particularly as much of what we are building now will still be in use throughout the rest of this century. Infrastructure is one of 5 priority areas on which we recommend the UK should focus now in order to adapt to climate change. The other priority areas are land-use emergency planning, buildings, and natural resources.

Infrastructure UK estimates that an average of £40-50 billion will need to be spent every year between now and 2030 on upgrading our national infrastructure. The cost of these upgrades is increasing as a result of socio-economic changes, the need to move to a low-carbon economy, and the requirement to replace old infrastructure that is coming to the end of its useful life. 

Examples of projects underway to adapt our infrastructure include the £550m redevelopment of London Blackfriars Station. Significant consideration has been given to the long term implications of climate change and the new station is to be fitted with sustainability technology in the form of sun pipes, rain harvesting systems, thermal insulation, and Photovoltaic (PV) cell solar panels, in order to decrease its reliance on other infrastructure such as water and electricity networks.

The 2003 heatwave resulted in over 2,000 excess deaths, a 17% rise in overall mortality the UK, with 47% of all deaths attributable to heat in central London during the period of peak temperatures. The Technology Strategy Board plans to spend £5 million to develop adaptation strategies for new and existing buildings in the UK which will include measures to reduce heat gain in existing housing stock and in new developments and to create awareness of the Heatwave Action Plan.

Last September, we published our first assessment of how well the UK is preparing for climate change. We found that many organisations are aware of how to improve their capacity to adapt to climate change. However, we also found that there are barriers to action, including uncertainty and short-termism. With infrastructure for example, we cannot predict precisely the types of risks that will be posed by the future change in the UK’s climate. Investment decision also have a tendency to be driven by time horizons that do not factor in the medium to long term impacts of climate change that will occur during the lifetime of the investment.

The Government recently published a plan to help ensure that the UK’s infrastructure is resilient to future climate, which includes a recommendation that my Committee regularly makes a formal assessment on the UK’s progress. Our next report in July will include an assessment of preparedness in the water sector and subsequent reports will look at decisions on the provision of infrastructure in the other key sectors, transport, energy, sewage and ICT.

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Written by Lord John Krebs   
Thursday, 02 June 2011 07:47
Last Updated on Thursday, 02 June 2011 07:52


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