The Intersection of Climate Change and Infrastructure

The importance of infrastructure

From buildings and bridges to roads and culverts, infrastructure is a crucial component for maintaining the economy, health, and safety of any nation. Building durable and resilient infrastructure is important in order to maintain systemic stability in the long term. Read more about the state of our infrastructure in the latest Infrastructure Report Card.

Impacts of climate change

Most infrastructure was designed to withstand the climatic and environmental conditions of the stationary past climate. However, shifts in temperature and precipitation trends that will affect our infrastructure have already been documented. Being poorly prepared for future increases in sea level, heat, or storm strength can result in costly fixes. Engineers and scientists are now planning infrastructure designed to withstand a changing climate in order to ensure infrastructure sustainability and structural integrity for the entirety of a project’s design life. For example, some options include constructing bridges and coastal roads appropriately for sea level rise, installing larger culverts, and reinforcing bridges to withstand more forceful hurricanes.

The ICNet has more information on the overlap of infrastructure and climate change, which can be found here.

What does this mean for the future?

In a number of areas, not accounting for climate change in infrastructure planning, design, maintenance, and operations will negatively impact infrastructure performance. Therefore, better understanding of vulnerabilities and strategies to incorporate future climate conditions including greater variability and more extreme climatic conditions into design, planning, and operations is an important step that can be taken now. The ICNet works to advance research on these impacts and promote networking between climate scientists, infrastructure researchers, and engineers in order to share the knowledge gained by each sector.