UK infrastructure design and planning needs to take into account the impact of climate change, a report says.
The cross-government study, Climate Resilient Infrastructure: Preparing for a Changing Climate, sets out what action needs to be taken by the owners of transport networks, utilities, regulators, insurers and government to protect the UK’s infrastructure from the impacts of climate change.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said around £200 billion is expected to be poured into UK infrastructure over the next five years. But if facilities cannot cope with the increase in floods, droughts and storms likely to accompany rising temperatures, the money will have been wasted, she warned.
Speaking at Blackfriars Station in London, which Network Rail says is being redeveloped with the long-term implications of climate change in mind; Spelman said the UK economy would not be able to grow if infrastructure failed.
Spelman said: “Our economy is built on effective transport and communications networks and reliable energy and water supplies.
“But the economy cannot grow if there are repeated power failures, or goods cannot be transported because roads are flooded and railways have buckled, or if intense rainfall or high temperatures disrupt Wi-Fi signals.
“£200 billion is expected to be invested in the UK's infrastructure over the next five years. But if the facilities which support our society cannot cope with floods, droughts or freezing winters then that money will have been wasted.”
Spelman urged UK businesses to develop new technologies and processes to help infrastructure cope with climate change.
Rail Minister Theresa Villiers, who also attended the launch of the report, said: “Despite the need to cut the deficit, the Government is committed to investing in our transport infrastructure through vital projects such as the Thameslink upgrade, Crossrail, the proposed High Speed rail network and more electrification of the rail network.
“Once completed, these projects will serve the country for many years, increasing connectivity and helping boost economic growth, so making them fit for the climate of the future has been a vital part of their planning.”
Blackfriars station is being fitted with technology including sun pipes, rainwater harvesting systems, insulation and solar panels to make it less reliant on other infrastructure such as water and electricity networks.
Spelman said there was also a need to protect communications networks, such as wi-fi which can be affected by rainfall and heat.
A failure in wi-fi networks would disadvantage people such as farmers and children in rural areas whose businesses or schoolwork could be affected by not being able to get online. And in the event of severe weather such as last winter's heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures, communications networks were vital, she said.
The Environment Secretary also said low-carbon energy infrastructure, such as nuclear power and wind farms which need to be developed to cut emissions, must also be designed to fit a changing climate.
Spelman also defended cuts to the flood defences budget, saying that the coalition had prioritised capital spending on flooding and that the Government’s new approach which allows for co-funding of projects by local communities and businesses would enable resources to be stretched further.