Source: OECD Report

The defining characteristic of climate-resilient infrastructure is that it is planned, designed, built and operated in a way that anticipates, prepares for, and adapts to changing climate conditions. It can also withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions caused by these climate conditions. Ensuring climate resilience is a continual process throughout the life of the asset. Efforts to achieve climate resilience can be mutually reinforcing with efforts to increase resilience to natural hazards. Climate-resilient infrastructure reduces, but may not fully eliminate, the risk of climate-related disruptions. The extent to which climate change translates into risks for infrastructure depends upon the interaction of changing climate hazards with exposure (the location of assets) and vulnerability (“the propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected”). Climate risks to infrastructure can be reduced by locating assets in areas that are less exposed to climate hazards (e.g. avoiding new construction in flood plains), and by making the assets better able to cope with climate impacts when they materialise. The development of infrastructure should also consider the impacts on risk elsewhere: for example, the potential contribution to flood risk resulting from increases in paved surfaces. Risk management requires making trade-offs between risk minimization and cost, where it becomes more expensive and increasingly technically challenging to prepare for events that are very unlikely to occur. Resilience means that the risks have been considered and managed to achieve an acceptable level of performance given the available information, and that capacities to withstand and recover from shocks are in place . The costs of protection need to be weighed against the consequences of damage or disruption. In the case of protective infrastructure (such as flood defences) this will be the assets protected by the defences. For other infrastructure, it will be the costs resulting from damage or disruption to the asset (e.g. business interruption from loss of electricity supply). The climate resilience of individual infrastructure assets should be viewed in the context of the system as a whole. Considering climate impacts for individual assets, such as a bridge or a railway line, is necessary but not sufficient to ensure that the system functions reliably despite a changing climate. For this reason, efforts to ensure resilience at the project level should be embedded within a strategic approach to infrastructure network planning that accounts for the direct and indirect effects of climate change and climate variability. This definition of climate resilience focuses on the process used and outcomes achieved to assess whether climate change impacts have been considered and, if necessary, managed. Given the context-specific nature of climate adaptation, the measures used to achieve this will vary widely. In some cases, no structural changes will be needed to achieve this: the climate resilient fibre optic cable may be identical to the one that would have otherwise been installed. However, where changes are required, they can be grouped into two categories :

● Structural adaptation measures: e.g., changing the composition of road surfaces so that they do not deform in high temperatures, building seawalls or using permeable paving surfaces to reduce run-off during heavy rainfalls. Ecosystem-based approaches using natural infrastructure to design adaptation measures are also key alternatives to be considered alongside structural adaptation measures.

● Management (or non-structural) adaptation measures: e.g., changing the timing of maintenance to account for changing patterns of energy demand and supply, investment in early warning systems or purchasing insurance to address financial consequences of climate variability. These measures can also include enhanced monitoring of existing assets to reduce the risk of failure as climate conditions change. Adaptive management approaches also include provisions to include flexibility from the outset to monitor and adjust to changing circumstances over the assets lifetime.

Planning and designing climate-resilient infrastructure

Key Messages

  • Infrastructure can have an essential role in strategies to manage the risks and minimise the negative impacts of climate change. The physical impacts of climate change – such as increasing temperatures, shifting patterns of precipitation, increased intensity or recurrence of extreme weather events and rising sea levels - will affect all types of infrastructure. Infrastructure should be designed, built and operated in a way that anticipates, prepares for, and adapts to these changing climate conditions. As countries communicate their long-term low greenhouse gas emissions development strategies and implement their emission reduction goals, greater clarity about future emissions trajectories and potential adaptation needs is likely to be achieved.
  • Ensuring that infrastructure is resilient to climate change can support the achievement of the Paris Agreement, including through increasing the ability to adapt to climate change and ensuring that financial flows are consistent with low-emissions and climate-resilient development. Climate-resilient infrastructure can also support the efforts to achieve a number of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
  • Climate-resilient infrastructure has the potential to improve the reliability of service provision, increase asset life and protect asset returns. Building climate resilience can involve a package of management measures (such as changing maintenance schedules and including adaptive management to account for uncertainty in the future) and structural measures (e.g. raising the height of bridges to account for sea-level rise).
  • Ecosystem-based approaches, including natural infrastructure, can provide an effective complement or substitute for traditional built (or “grey”) infrastructure. For example, watershed restoration can protect sources of drinking water and reduce the need for subsequent treatment. These approaches can be cheaper than relying solely upon “grey” infrastructure, as well as yielding co-benefits.
  • Flexible, adaptive approaches to infrastructure can be used to reduce the costs of building climate resilience given uncertainty about the future. Climate model projections may be a significant source of uncertainty, but other factors (such as socioeconomic changes) are also salient achieving climate resilience. Decisions about infrastructure should consider relevant uncertainties to ensure resilience across a range of potential future scenarios.

Strengthening the enabling environment for climate-resilient infrastructure

Key Messages

  • Decision makers need to have access to high quality information, consistent data and capacity to adapt planning to account for climate change. This can be achieved through the development of platforms and online tools to provide accessible, credible and transparent information on past and future climate behaviour. Relevant uncertainties should be clearly communicated, and guidance provided on how to incorporate these into decision-making. Access to information should be complemented with the development of technical and institutional capacity to manage climate-related risks.
  • Tools for mainstreaming adaptation and encouraging investments in resilient infrastructure include: − spatial planning frameworks, including vulnerability maps, to improve management of climate risks, reduce vulnerability and prevent the construction of new infrastructure in exposed areas; − infrastructure projects and policy appraisals, including Strategic Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment; and − regulatory and economic standards (such as building codes).
  • Climate risk disclosure can help raise awareness of and encourage efforts to reduce climate-related risks to infrastructure, but needs to be tailored to national circumstances. The risks from climate change are diverse, vary by national and subnational circumstances and there are multiple possible metrics for measuring progress in addressing those risks.

Mobilising investment in climate-resilient infrastructure

Key Messages

  • Climate impacts will have implications for existing global infrastructure investment needs, including increasing, decreasing, or re-directing particular investment needs in relevant sectors, particularly flood defences, and water supply and sanitation. The use of tools for decision-making under uncertainty can reduce the need for costly retrofitting while reducing upfront costs. Natural infrastructure and other flexible or innovative approaches to climate-resilient infrastructure may even be cheaper than traditional approaches in some circumstances. Global studies find that the benefits of investing in resilience outweigh the costs with high benefit-cost ratios, for example of investment in flood defences for coastal cities.
  • Developing and communicating infrastructure plans can help investors to identify investment opportunities. Developing these plans provides an opportunity for decision makers to take a strategic view of how considerations such as climate change will affect infrastructure needs in the coming decades, and design sequenced packages of investment (“pathways”) that address interconnections and increase resilience in a way that cannot be achieved by looking at projects in isolation.
  • Public procurement processes can support climate resilience by comparing bids’ costs over the asset lifetime. This includes considering both operating expenses (OPEX) as well as capital expenses (CAPEX). The increasingly severe impacts of climate change later in the design life of the project are likely not to be considered by the project developer at the design stage unless there is a government requirement to do so. For Public Private Partnership (PPP) contracts, it is important to clarify the allocation of responsibilities regarding climate-related risks planning, management and response.
  • Lenders and public funders are increasingly using risk screening to identify infrastructure that may be vulnerable to climate change. One of the emerging lessons is that screening should be combined with support to generate solutions to the risks that have been identified in the screening process.
  • Public finance and policies can be used to mobilise private finance for climate-resilient infrastructure. Support for project preparation can help to address capacity constraints relating to climate resilience. Blended finance can be used to improve the risk-return profile of investments where appropriate, in combination with efforts to improve the enabling environment for private investment.


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