Planning for climate change: The influence of infrastructure

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Planning for climate change: The influence of infrastructure

Planning for climate change: The influence of infrastructure

Nancy Stuart 21 Jul 2020
This is the second in Lichfields’ series of blogs examining the climate emergency in planning, following on from ‘Planning for climate change: Is London leading the way?’.
The Committee on Climate Change’s (‘CCC’) report ‘Progress Report to Parliament’, published last month, identified investment in low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure to be a key measure that is vital to achieving the UK’s climate targets in the short and long term. But what is it? The OECD[1] states that climate resilient infrastructure is planned, designed, built and operated in a way that anticipates, prepares for and adapts to changing climate conditions.

Why do we need to climate-proof infrastructure?

The World Economic Forum[2] has claimed that investment is vital to future proofing our communities for the decades ahead. By investing heavily in climate resilient infrastructure right now and adapting our transport networks, housing and businesses, we will be better set to counteract flooding, heatwaves, drought, cyclones, wildfires, and other extreme climate events.
Infrastructure networks are already affected by the physical impacts of climate variability and change. For example, OECD modelling of the potential impacts of a major flood in Paris found that 30% to 55% of the direct flood damages would be suffered by the infrastructure sector, while 35% to 85% of business losses were caused by disruption to the transportation and electricity supply and not by the flood itself.
This is particularly relatable to the logistics sector, which is arguably one of the most susceptible industries to the increasingly tangible effects of climate change. Extreme weather events, such as winter storms and floods, can disrupt and influence supply chains globally – particularly in the UK where a downturn in the weather conditions can wreak havoc on transport systems. However, this industry is also a major contributor to climate change. Transport is embedded in the door-to-door supply chains, and in the CCC’s Progress to Parliament Report, it revealed that surface transport is now the highest emitting sector in the UK.
However, these key infrastructure networks will also play an essential role in building resilience to climate impacts in the future.

What infrastructure do we need to invest in?

Examples of climate resilient infrastructure that are key to reaching the UK’s climate change goals are explored below.
1.  Carbon capture and storage (‘CCS’) infrastructure:
CCS encompasses technologies for capturing carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere, transporting and storing it deep underground in geological formations where it will be permanently contained. This storage requires pipelines to transport the CO2 to the storage destinations. The CCC estimates that up to 175 million tonnes of CO2 – around half the UK’s 2019 emissions – will need to be captured annually by 2050 to reach the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions. 
We are already seeing progress in this industry globally, for instance, energy giants Equinor, Shell and Total have signed off on a plan to build what would be the world’s first carbon capture and storage network in Norway. The project will be developed in stages, with phase one developing the infrastructure to transport, inject and store up to 1.5 million tonnes of CO2per year in the seafloor thousands of metres (2,700 metres to be precise) below sea level. However, this infrastructure is currently very expensive and cost reductions are necessary to be able to deploy CCS cost effectively in the UK[3].
2.  Low-carbon hydrogen:
As an alternative to fossil fuels, hydrogen production has the potential to contribute to decarbonisation in the UK. Hydrogen is a low-zero carbon, energy dense fuel that can be stored and transported over long distances. Climate experts therefore agree it is likely to be crucial for decarbonising the UK’s heavy road transport and manufacturing industries, which can’t get enough power from electricity alone. It could also prove crucial for cutting carbon emissions from home heating, by replacing natural gas in the gas grid.
Currently the vast majority of hydrogen is produced using natural gas, which can only be made low-carbon by bolting on CO2 capture technology. Hydrogen can also be produced using renewable electricity via a process known as electrolysis.
Earlier this year, the Government announced a low carbon funding package, where £70 million will fund two of Europe’s first-ever large scale, low carbon hydrogen production plants - the first on the banks of the Mersey, the second planned for near Aberdeen.
3.  Zero Carbon Freight:
As discussed above, surface transport is now the highest emitter in the UK, and the logistics sector contributes significantly to this. The CCC makes recommendations within its recent report for the Government to implement a strategy to transition to zero-carbon freight (potentially through use of hydrogen), including stronger purchase incentives, schemes to reduce HGV and van use in urban areas (e.g. e-cargo bikes and use of urban consolidation centres), infrastructure plans and clean air zones.
London is leading the way in the journey to zero carbon transport – with Sadiq Khan announcing on Friday plans for London’s entire tube network to be powered by renewable electricity by 2030.

How will climate resilient infrastructure be achieved?

As would be expected, this area of addressing the climate emergency is mostly dependent on coordination at a Government level. The CCC places a lot of emphasis on the measures and investment plans that will be implemented through the National Infrastructure Strategy that is due to be published later this year – following a delay announced in March 2020. It is suggested that all new infrastructure investments should assess and plan for the impacts of climate change. The private sector also has a role in supporting this action, through financing research and initiatives.
Lastly, planning is a key driver in the delivery of climate resilient infrastructure. Well-aligned national and local planning frameworks are vital to guiding progress in support of climate resilient infrastructure. This is already being recognised, for example, this week, Defra published its ‘Flood and coastal erosion risk management policy statement’, setting out the Government’s policy on flood and coastal erosion risk management in the face of climate change. This document states that the government will "ensure that planning policy is being appropriately applied and effectively implemented on a consistent basis across the country”.
Lichfields is well suited to help respond to the climate change emergency in planning, and across a range of specialities – our next blog in the series looks at how aviation is responding to the climate emergency. Contact us for further information.

[1] Policy perspectives: Climate resilient infrastructure[2] Why it's time to invest in climate resilient infrastructure[3] UK carbon capture and storage government funding and support