In a report published today, an alliance representing nearly half a million engineers calls for a radical shake up of the way national infrastructure is planned, developed and protected. The report calls for a more joined up process of decision making in Government and a new approach to sharing information in the commercial sector. Without such approaches, the impacts of climate change could have severely detrimental effects on UK society and the economy by crippling vital services such as electricity, roads and broadband.

The report, from the alliance Engineering the Future, was formally presented to the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir John Beddington at today’s launch event hosted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London.

The report, Infrastructure, Engineering and Climate Change Adaptation - Ensuring services in an uncertain future, examines vulnerabilities in energy, transport, communications and water systems and identifies vulnerabilities that affect the infrastructure system as a whole. It examines ‘cascade failures’, when failure in one service has a domino effect on others, will cause major disruption and have significant economic impact if action is not taken to build resilience into vital infrastructure networks. The report identifies ways to prevent and prepare for such events. The findings are part of a national programme that will eventually lead to the Government’s adaptation strategy.

Speaking on behalf of Engineering the Future, Lord Browne of Madingley (President of the Royal Academy of Engineering) says “Climate change is a genuine risk. While efforts must continue towards mitigating its effects, we need to think very carefully about how we adapt to the changing climatic conditions that are anticipated over the coming century. In the long term protecting our critical national infrastructure is ultimately about protecting the UK economy and its future growth.”

One of 20 findings in the report focuses on how the public may have to adjust their expectations regarding the continuity of services. The UK has already experienced the impact of flash floods and recent extreme weather has contributed to negative growth in the UK. Extreme weather events may occur with increasing frequency in the future. With the combined pressures of a changing climate, carbon reduction measures and increasing interdependencies placing different demands upon infrastructure systems, resilient services will come at a high cost. It is unlikely society will be willing to pay the increasing costs of “always on” services. So a debate is needed on the balance between acceptable levels of disruption verses higher costs.

Lord Henley, Environment Minister responsible for adapting to climate change, says “Protecting and adapting infrastructure is crucial to our way of life. Taking measures now in the energy, water, transport and communications sectors will not only save money, but also save lives.

“Engineering is one of the best chances we have of adapting to rising sea levels, flooding and hotter temperatures. This report will inform Defra’s Adapting National Infrastructure programme which will set out the Government’s vision for adapting UK infrastructure this spring.”

Infrastructure, Engineering and Climate Change Adaptation - Ensuring services in an uncertain future was written for Defra and prepared from the perspective of the engineering profession with input particularly from the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Chemical Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Read the report:  Infrastructure, Engineering and Climate Change Adaptation (1,005.36 KB)

Notes for editors

Engineering the Future is an alliance of professional engineering organisations with a combined membership of 450,000 engineers. Our vision is of a thriving UK economy, based on innovative high-value businesses and industries that build on our national strengths and address the grand challenges of the 21st century. The leadership of the alliance is drawn from the following organisations:

- Engineering Council
- EngineeringUK
- The Institution of Civil Engineers
- The Institution of Chemical Engineers
- The Institution of Engineering and Technology
- The Institution of Mechanical Engineers
- The Institute of Physics
- The Royal Academy of Engineering

Climate change adaptation work in Government is co-ordinated through the Adapting to Climate Change Programme based in Defra. This cross-departmental programme works with all sectors to enable society to adapt successfully to the changes in climate which we are facing.

Under the Climate Change Act key organisations responsible for UK infrastructure are required to report to Defra on their progress in identifying how climate change will affect their business, and what measures they are taking to adapt. In total 91 organisations will be asked to submit reports including water utilities, rail companies, major airports, harbour authorities and economic regulators. The first seven reports, including Network Rail, National Grid and the Highways Agency, were published last week.

This Spring Defra will publish the Adapting National Infrastructure report which will set out the Government’s vision for adapting UK infrastructure.

The report is being presented to Government on 8th February 2011 at the IET Savoy Place offices from 15:00.

For more information please contact

Robert Beahan, Press Officer
T: +44 (0)1438 767336
M: +44 (0)7595 400912