Resilience, risk and rigour – the need to protect infrastructure in the face of climate change


Lack of resilience of global infrastructure to the effects of climate change could cost global cities up to $194bn every year by 2050. Urgent action is needed now, says Madeleine Rawlins of Mott MacDonald.

The world is grappling with the effects of a rapidly changing climate, as extreme weather events become more frequent with increasingly severe impacts. Recent flooding in Dubai and forest fires in Chile are just two in an ever-growing list of disasters caused, at least in part, by rising temperatures.

While efforts to decarbonise our global economy are underway to try and slow this growing threat, we must also consider the impact that climate change is already starting to have on our critical infrastructure.

Analyses such as the London Climate Resilience Review and National Climate Risk Assessment in Australia have highlighted the glaring vulnerabilities of even some of the world’s most developed places when it comes to coping with climate change. Having roads, railways, hospitals and energy systems unfit to face the tests of a changing climate poses serious consequences for society and the environment.

Delivering infrastructure resilience is clearly critical for its users as well as asset owners and investors. Yet according to the C40 global network of mayors, lack of resilience of global infrastructure to the effects of climate change could cost the world’s major cities up to $194bn every year by 2050.

Investment in infrastructure resilience has so far lagged well behind what is required, with the UN estimating that the adaptation finance gap currently stands between $194-366bn per year. The disconnect between the severity of the climate emergency and the action being taken is due in part to a shortage of evidence to inform effective financing and robust decision-making.

If the infrastructure we build today is going to be resilient to future climate hazards, then we need to understand the potential impacts on our assets, the options for building resilience and how to make the business case for it across the asset lifetime.

Growing demand for greater rigour

The global infrastructure industry needs a rigorous and consistent means of measuring and quantifying the risk of climate change to an asset. There is a growing demand for this clarity from both regulatory and market forces, which together are driving the case for a globally standardised approach.

The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures’ recommendations have already been adopted in Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand Switzerland and the UK, requiring mandatory climate risk reporting. While some countries still allow for descriptive analysis, more detailed data-based assessments are increasingly becoming a requirement across the globe.

From a market perspective, international infrastructure investors are increasingly eager for consistent approaches to identify and then quantify physical climate risks across their global portfolios. Governments too are starting to realise the competitive advantage that further guidance and transparency can provide.

Towards a global standard

While ISO14090 has been developed to provide a consistent approach to climate change risk assessment and adaptation, a standard that goes beyond this to build infrastructure resilience is needed. This can be achieved in a similar way to what has been done for the management of whole-life carbon in buildings and infrastructure under PAS2080.

To achieve climate-resilient infrastructure requires a paradigm shift – away from viewing risk and resilience assessment as a one-off exercise undertaken at the design stage and instead embedding it into the strategic decision-making process. It must be considered at every stage of the project lifecycle.

This means bringing together a range of perspectives and specialisms – including climate scientists, asset managers, resilience practitioners and financiers – who can assess the design and quantify the resilience needs of infrastructure assets.

Collaboration like this will help decision-makers evaluate and analyse the long-term impact of physical climate risks on assets helping them to understand where best to direct funding to meet organisational and regulatory needs.

An approach that factors in the need for quantitative assessment and supports these ends can then be adopted by countries across the world. Get this right and we can recognise global resilience gaps and ensure funding can be targeted towards the places that are most in need.

Protecting our infrastructure

The Physical Climate Risk Assessment Methodology (PCRAM) is a globally recognised approach that offers an advancement on existing qualitative methods of measuring and building in resilience. Developed by Mott MacDonald through the Coalition for Climate Resilience Investment, PCRAM has been designed to improve consistency in risk assessment and provide a common language between the infrastructure and financial industries – helping to demonstrate the benefits of investing in resilience.

Employing this approach has already had tangible benefits for assessing climate risk and improving infrastructure resilience in trials across the globe. Some early adopters of the approach have included renewable energy projects addressing drought and cyclones as well as reservoirs and railways that have addressed the impacts of flooding using PCRAM.

Assessing resilience in this way is helping to prevent disruption, protect investment and ensure our communities can continue to thrive. These benefits are being recognised internationally, with the UK government investing in PCRAM to further improve its method and encourage its further adoption.

The need for climate-resilient infrastructure is becoming increasingly clear. The effects of changing temperatures are not just being felt in the world’s hinterlands but also in our cities and towns. If we are to protect critical infrastructure and ensure sound investment there is a pressing need for the adoption of a globally recognised quantitative approach to resilience that can be applied across the value chain by investors, asset owners and engineers.

Madeleine Rawlins is the global practice leader for climate change at Mott MacDonald.