The reality of climate change sets in
As the reality of climate change becomes more tangible for many nations, understanding the importance of adaptation when planning for infrastructure projects is critical to ensuring resilience.
The World Bank recently indicated that “climate risks include meteorological, hydrological, and/or climatological events that result in extreme weather, such as storms, floods, landslides, extreme temperatures, droughts, and wildfires.” Infrastructure is vital to any nation’s economic resilience, and these projects are characterized by substantial investments that need to last for an extended time period – often 50 years or more – and usually have very specific uses, e.g., bridges, roadways, electric grids, water filtration and supplies.
Climate risks and low income nations
A recent study indicated that increasing economic losses are synonymous with climate change impacts, and low to middle income nations often struggle to rebuild following natural disasters.
Developing countries are the most at-risk to climate change impacts, so adaptation remains paramount to national viability and growth. Other factors can exacerbate current infrastructure that is already in place, including the increasingly rapid urbanization that is occurring, and settlement of people in regions vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as along coastal waters subject to sea-level rise.
Climate adaptation in new infrastructure projects
Many developing nations have the ability to incorporate climate adaptation into new infrastructure projects, and the countries who will likely gain the greatest benefits will be those in the low-to middle-income range. In these developing countries, infrastructure projects that incorporate climate change adaptation can and likely will help them avoid large economic losses. In 2011, physical losses from natural disaster-related damages across the globe totaled the highest amount ever — $386 billion.
The challenge is in ensuring that enough scenario planning has been conducted in order to include the most likely impacts of climate change — along with enough variations in the infrastructure system planned — to accommodate a wide variety of potential outcomes. For example, a nation that plans for water scarcity, yet lacks the capacity to adapt to excess water from a less frequent extreme precipitation events has failed to include enough variability in its planning to truly adapt to climate change.
Public Private Partnerships (PPPs)
The World Bank report analyzed the feasibility of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in building infrastructure resilience, noting that the incentives differ for public versus private sectors. Public goals for resilient infrastructure include minimizing economic loss, the safety and security of the public, and maintaining availability, along with the continued use of infrastructure services. According to the World Bank, private goals are more focused on economic benefits, including preventing investment losses, losing the ability to fulfill contractual obligations, and avoiding a loss of reputation.
Although they differ, infrastructure is vital to meeting the goals of both the public and private sector. A thorough understanding of climate change, its risks, and the development of innovative, cost-effective solutions for infrastructure that is climate-resilient is absolutely essential to a nation’s adaptation and resilience in the face of climate change. Many current PPPs lack flexibility, do not address undefined risks (climate change), and are bound by contractual obligation and liability.
Going forward, planning must incorporate a variety of strategic solutions, both through scenario planning and innovative ideas and technology that allow for flexibility and address climate change risks. It is the hope that PPPs can shift their paradigms to incorporate long-term resilience into infrastructure planning, producing a win-win for everyone.