Chapter 4 : Infrastructure

Dawson, Richard (Civil engineer); Gosling, Simon N.; Chapman, Lee, 1977-; Darch, Geoff; Watson, Geoff V. R.; Powrie, William; Bell, Sarah (Sarah Jayne); Paulson, Kevin S.; Hughes, Paul N.; Wood, Ruth (Chemist)

Climate change


©2017 Comittee of Climate Change. See for details.

Increased frequency of flooding from all sources is the most significant climate change risk to UK infrastructure, including energy, transport, water, waste and digital communications. Assets and networks across all infrastructure sectors are already exposed to multiple sources of flooding, and the number of assets exposed could double under expected changes in climate by the 2080s. Coastal infrastructure is particularly at risk from storm surges and rising sea levels, as well as higher rates of coastal erosion in some areas. Infrastructure networks near rivers will also be increasingly at risk from projected higher flows and subsequent bankside erosion.

Projected changes in temperature and rainfall will place additional pressures on infrastructure, in particular the rail, road, water and energy sectors. High temperatures create a risk of buckling on the rail network, cause electricity cables to sag, and road tarmac to soften and rut. Components such as signalling equipment can overheat and fail. Changes in rainfall, coupled with population growth, are projected to lead to supply/demand deficits in water resource zones across England and in some other parts of the UK by the 2050s, with widespread deficits projected by the 2080s. Adaptation, beyond what is currently planned by water companies, will be required to manage this risk. Projected extended periods of rainfall will also increase the risk of slope and embankment failure. Approximately 8% of the UK’s transport and road network is at medium to high risk of landslide disruption.

While future projections remain uncertain, increases in maximum wind speeds experienced during storms would have significant implications for overhead power lines, data network cabling and the rail network, as well as for offshore infrastructure. Vulnerability to this risk is expected to increase with higher rates of vegetation growth, resulting in more tree-related failures for electricity and transport networks.

Following extreme events, most notably in summer 2007 and winter 2013/14, there is evidence that significant adaptation steps have been implemented, or are underway, across most infrastructure sectors. Reporting has improved, but could be made more transparent across the board – through better recording and provision of data on climate risks to infrastructure, and how adaptation investment contributes to risk reduction. Current reporting is incomplete and inconsistent.

While understanding of sectoral risks has improved over the last few years, the impacts of climate change could be amplified by interconnectivities and interdependencies between infrastructure sectors. Understanding of these is less comprehensive, and current governance arrangements mean that responsibilities for assessing and managing risks from interdependencies are unclear.

Uncertainties and the high capital costs of some adaptation measures that are designed to cope with extreme events that may not materialise for many years are regularly identified as major barriers to releasing funds for adaptation investment.

The key risks and opportunities identified for infrastructure are summarised in Table 4.1. The assessment of the urgency is based on the expert judgement of the ASC, in consultation with the report authors and peer reviewers. See Chapter 2 for more detail on the method taken to assess urgency.

The University of Hull
Peer reviewed
Additional notes
This is a copy of Dawson, R.J., Thompson, D., Johns, D., Gosling, S., Chapman, L., Darch, G., Watson, G., Powrie, W., Bell, S., Paulson, K., Hughes, P., and Wood, R. (2016) UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report: Chapter 4, Infrastructure. Report prepared for the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change, London.
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