Engineering the solutions to effects of climate change

by Search Gate staff. Published Tue 08 Feb 2017 19:59
Sights like this flooded railway station will become more commonplace

The UK's professional engineering sector will play a key role in tackling the destructive effects of future climate change, according to a new Government-commissioned report.

The study carried out by Engineering the Future partnership - an alliance of professional engineering bodies – warns warming temperatures and increased freak weather events will severely disrupt energy, transport, water and IT.

This increases the risk of "cascade failures", where a breakdown in one system results in a domino effect on others - such as a flood that shuts down the local power station, which in turn affects the mobile phone network.

The report, published on behalf of Defra by The Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Chemical Engineers, urges regulators to improve links between sectors for better planning..

The conclusions of the study will feed into the Defra led cross-Government Infrastructure and Adaptation project and was carried out from the perspective of the engineering profession and the engineering response to the demands of climate change adaptation.

Lord Browne, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, wrote in the 108-page report: “Climate change is a reality. While efforts must continue towards mitigating its effects, there is a crucial need to adapt to the changing climatic conditions that are anticipated this Century.

“Extreme weather and long term climate change threaten critical national infrastructure and the UK economy, since a robust infrastructure is essential to economic functioning and growth.

“Engineers will have a central role in adapting the UK’s infrastructure for resilience to climate change. A holistic approach to the development and protection of infrastructure is essential, with an awareness of where failure in one sector can lead to a cascade of failures elsewhere.

“Engineers must use systems thinking to manage infrastructure in the light of new climate threats
and to deal with systemic risks. An integrated approach to planning and managing infrastructure development is key. Government should take a systems approach to the processes of planning and regulation.

“Adapting to climate change is not just a matter of managing the risks - it is about taking the opportunities it presents to develop new, innovative infrastructure systems and services. Adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change provides opportunities in the new Green Economy.

“New opportunities in engineering design and manufacturing will come from the development of renewable energy technologies and the supply chains that will serve them. Building of resilience into existing infrastructure and designing new systems that are robust and efficient will do the same.

“If managed correctly, investment in infrastructure adaptation will create quality jobs, increasing the demand for skilled technicians to install, upgrade and maintain the new resilient infrastructure.

“The adaptation programme needs Government to shape policy and regulation that will promote investment in infrastructure and encourage collaboration across sectors. It also requires individuals, organisations and businesses to take a realistic view of the future reliability of infrastructure based services, and to plan accordingly.

“Engineers will be critical to the adaptation challenge and the UK engineering profession is willing and eager to grasp the opportunities it presents.”

The report says engineers will be central to the process of climate change adaptation, both ensuring that current infrastructure assets are protected from the long term and acute affects of climate change, and developing new infrastructure systems fit for changing climate conditions.

It added: “Investing in engineering efforts to protect infrastructure is essential both to minimise risks to infrastructure, and thereby the public and the economy, due to climate change; and to maximise opportunities for the profession and the economy in developing cost-effective and marketable solutions to adaptation needs.”

The report examines vulnerabilities in different sectors of the national infrastructure to the effects of climate change and the modifications that would be needed to increase resilience. It also considers vulnerabilities that affect the infrastructure system as a whole and which arise as a result of interdependencies between different sectors.

It explains: “The effects of climate change on infrastructure are not limited to changes in weather, but include the impact on infrastructure of efforts toward climate change mitigation, and climate induced changes in behaviour and demographics.

“These must be considered alongside other developments such as population growth and changes in the economic environment.”

It advises adaptation to climate change should include two forms of response: dealing with long term effects on the infrastructure such as rising sea levels, and developing resilience to acute and extreme weather events such as flash flooding.

Extreme events highlight the interdependencies in infrastructure as they are liable to lead to ‘cascade failure’ where the failure of one aspect of infrastructure, such as flood defences, can lead to other failures, eg. flooded power stations leading to power cuts which thereby affect telecommunications networks.

The interdependencies in infrastructure therefore need to be managed well, especially as infrastructure is becoming more interdependent. For example, the smart grid will mean energy systems rely more on ICT, and the electrification of transport systems will mean transport is more reliant on the grid.

“Resilience is thus required in all sectors to protect against cascade failure and to adapt the infrastructure against a slowly changing climate over the longer term. Managing national infrastructure is a systems issue, requiring collaboration, planning and sharing of information between sectors,” the report explains.

“Systems resilience, rather than sector resilience, is required to adapt to climate change. Current silos and boundaries must be broken down by culture and any other available levers used to build a picture of the state of the entire infrastructure system and local subsystems.

“The infrastructure system also requires joined up management within Government, with long-term planning for adapting and maintaining infrastructure, and a regulatory and policy framework which provides the degree of certainty needed for investors.

The need for a plan to manage the adaptation programme is urgent, but requires little cost and the plan can be implemented in a measured way over time. If the UK can implement a plan effectively, then there are opportunities for UK industry to meet both national needs and to export products and expertise.”

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Comments about Engineering the solutions to effects of climate change

There is little evidence of joined up thinking or policy making.
Michael Beard, Southam, Warks, UK around 2 years, 10 months ago

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