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Building to a warmer climate


The impacts of climate on infrastructure are changing, and will continue to change over the lifetime of infrastructure built today. Dr Tom Connor advocates that we design and build infrastructure that can be readily upgraded as the planet warms.

‘As we look ahead to developing infrastructure in Australia and in our Asia-Pacific region, we confront a challenge never faced so obviously by engineers, planners and scientists. We know that the planet’s climate will be trending one way or the other in different regions.’

Dr Connor is past president of Engineers Australia and has led flood, coastal and disaster management projects in Australia and South-East Asia, as well as undertaking sustainability and climate change initiatives over almost 30 years.

‘Without this approach, communities will be faced with increased inconvenience or risk or costs of remediation.’

All countries face the challenge of adapting infrastructure to climate change, but Australia and the Asia-Pacific region face it more acutely because of our massive coastlines, island states and high coastal population densities.

‘If Australia can develop and implement a sound and positive response to the challenge, its professional service providers will be well-placed to lead this work throughout the region,’ Dr Connor says.

‘An infrastructure guidance framework could change designers’ attitudes nationwide – from perhaps one of awareness of climate change to perhaps one of striving to understand the climate and economic reality and ensuring that the national ‘rules’ of implementation are appropriate to the circumstances.’

Decision points within each design and construction phase would allow a risk-based approach to be tailored to the specific project and location. Inputs include the design life, chosen climate change scenarios, the desired risk profile and cost analysis of outcomes of various adaptation methods.

‘Designing infrastructure for a warming planet can provide substantial scope for innovation. In the current regulatory vacuum, the reality is not being faced and wasted opportunities will return to bite us in the form of costly and disruptive retrofits in future.’

How will your agency’s building cope with climate change?
Are there changes that should be made now to prepare for a changing climate?

(This article draws on an article in the November 2016 issue of Focus, published by the Australian Academy of Technology & Engineering.)


photo of Melbourne city skyline

We need to adapt our infrastructure to cope with climate change. (Photo: Paul Holper)