Infrastructure vulnerable to climate change: report

By Ju Yeon Jung

Australia should step up its climate change research and policy development in order to protect major infrastructure from erratic weather conditions, a recent study has argued. 

The report released by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) and funded by the Australian Research Council, has evaluated impacts of climate change on the nation’s physical infrastructure.

According to the report, infrastructure elements such as dams, power stations, and road are highly vulnerable to climate change, revealing an urgent need for more integrated infrastructure design and planning.

With the ongoing drought in the southern regions posing a threat to the capacity-restrained water distribution systems, it argued the sector should consider cost-effective alternative supply sources such as desalination, recycling and community education.

“Coupling desalination installations with thermal power stations may be worthy of consideration,” it said.

Extreme rainfall and associated sea level rise and storm surge may further harm infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas that are already “at risk from inundation and erosion”. 

The report also said electricity infrastructure would be hit by a combination of drought, high temperatures and bushfires, limiting power generation and interrupting communication.

However, it said planning for energy infrastructure would be problematic, as the sector was commercially driven with diverse private ownership.

“Adaptation to cope effectively with these situations is expected to require more investment with integrated, high-level strategic planning,” it said.

“Government intervention may be necessary to achieve the required outcomes.”

Road infrastructure and building structures are also susceptible, with their reduced durability and resistance leading to high maintenance costs.

While Australia was well equipped with regulatory frameworks and scientific resources to respond to potential challenges arising from climate change, the report said action was needed to ensure this advantage was maintained and expanded.

It stressed many of the conclusions were relevant to the design and planning of future infrastructure, giving a high priority to the rigorous implementation of planning procedures for the endangered areas.

“It is important that design and planning decisions are made in a manner which will facilitate future modification or retrofitting, which may become necessary as a result of more recent data and information.”

The report called on the Australian Council of Governments to set up a national climate change adaptation taskforce to produce appropriate adaptation measures that could encompass the scientific, technological, regulatory, economic, societal and legal areas.

“The complexity of the issues makes it imperative to undertake national coordination, with an urgent need to set up national guidelines for the evaluation, planning of infrastructure projects to the effects of climate change,” it said.

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