Climate Resilient Infrastructure – the Way Forward

Current design standards for building infrastructure are based on outdated, historic climate data. In the face of climate change, planning, operation, maintenance, and management of infrastructure need to be revised, says urban environmental planner Riya Rahiman.

The Need for Climate Resilient Infrastructure

Climate change today manifests itself through weather anomalies and extreme weather events which pose direct physical risks to people, assets, and infrastructure. Countries across the globe are experiencing the growing intensity and frequency of extreme climate events, with catastrophic impacts on infrastructure.

The impacts of climate change go way beyond these direct physical risks as the damage of infrastructure and property further impacts economic growth. Climate change affects a broad spectrum of functions, infrastructure, and services and is responsible for compounding and aggravating the existing non-climatic stresses, such as urbanisation, migration, water demand, sanitation, etc. Considering the heavy cost implications associated with the damage of infrastructural services, it is imperative to establish climate resilient infrastructure.

Additionally, given that infrastructure investments have an economic life expectancy of 30 years or more, it is imperative to realise that the infrastructure is sensitive not only to the prevailing climatic conditions but also to future climate variations during its entire life cycle.

Existing Challenges

Presently, the design standards for building infrastructure are based on historic climate data. However, during their life cycle they can be subjected to climate vagaries which can be very different from past climate trends. Climate change is happening at an increasingly rapid pace and will modify long-term climatic averages, and the frequency and intensity of extreme events. To this end, it is important to re-examine the planning, design, operations, maintenance, and management of infrastructure, to meet the emerging demands of the changing climate.

The lack of climate data for adopting appropriate adaptation measures and applying to design standards for infrastructure is a challenge that impedes the development of climate resilient infrastructure. Apart from this, the lack of enabling policies and appropriate financial mechanisms to integrate climate concerns in infrastructure development further adds to the predicament.

The Way Forward

Planning and investing in climate resilient infrastructure makes good business sense as it prevents inefficiencies and cost of retrofitting infrastructure, while reducing the vulnerability of cities. Over the next 15 years, an investment of around US$90 trillion is required to replace ageing infrastructure in advanced economies, and to accommodate higher growth in emerging economies.

As cities deal with climate vagaries and extreme weather events, there is a clear need for action and efforts to minimise the risks posed by climate change and incorporate climate change considerations in the infrastructure development goals. The recommended measures towards this are:

  • Integrate climate change concerns in infrastructure design, construction, and maintenance practices.
    The existing codes and practices for infrastructure design and development are mostly outdated and lack state-of the-art technology options and provisions to address climate change. Through detailed studies based on the latest scientific climate knowledge, existing climate thresholds should be revised and incorporated in the infrastructure development standards, codes, and practices.
    As climate change impacts on infrastructure vary across different regions, the revisions should integrate design parameters considering projected climate change, particularly frequency and intensity of extreme events particular to each region. It is also important to follow efficient maintenance practices and schedules for enhancing resilience of infrastructure. Value-for-money innovative engineering practices, including adaptive designs and nature-based solutions, should also be explored.
  • Improve access to climate information and enhance technical and institutional capacity.
    Climate risk information should be recorded, collected, and updated regularly by relevant government authorities to facilitate resilience planning for infrastructure development. This should be complemented by strengthening technical and institutional capacity to utilise the climate information for planning climate resilient infrastructure, and to explore alternate construction materials and technologies that can be adopted for climate proofing the infrastructure.
  • Facilitate an environment to mainstream climate change concerns in planning and approval processes for infrastructure development.
    Climate vulnerable areas should be identified and mapped at a regional level and detailed climate risk assessment studies should be made mandatory as part of the planning and approval process for infrastructure development, especially in highly vulnerable areas. To this end, it is recommended that vulnerability assessments should be conducted as part of the feasibility study for infrastructure development and ensured that the detailed project report (DPR) includes the cost of climate proofing the infrastructure.
  • Adopt and promote innovative financial mechanisms for enhancing climate resilience of infrastructure.
    When evaluating competitive bids during the public procurement process for building infrastructure, bids which have incorporated the value of climate resilience, i.e. bids which have accounted for the additional upfront cost for climate proofing the infrastructure should be incentivised. Efforts should also be made towards mobilising private finance for developing climate resilient infrastructure. Innovative financing instruments that incentivise resilient infrastructure and have provisions for efficient risk transfer mechanisms such as climate risk insurance, resilience bonds, etc., that insulate the public and private sectors from losses due to extreme climate events, should be promoted by the relevant government authority. The risk transfer mechanism will insulate both the public and private sectors from losses that can occur due to the damage caused by extreme climate events.

Riya Rahiman

Riya Rahiman is an environmental planner and civil engineer by training. She works on urbanisation challenges with respect to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Her expertise revolves around research and policy to foster sustainable, low-carbon, resilient and liveable cities. Leading policy research at TERI, her work involves close association with city governments, national and sub-national level line ministries/departments, international agencies, donor organisations, philanthropies, research institutes and networks.
Riya Rahiman

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