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Construction is uniquely placed to help the UK adapt to a changing climate

Fierce winter storms have highlighted the UK’s vulnerability to a variable and changing climate.

The damage caused on our coasts and inland show we still struggle to cope with the consequences of climate change.

Communities feel the effects through flooded homes or the failure of local utility services and transport networks, with serious implications for the safety and health of individuals, for business development and for the long-term robustness of our infrastructure.

Special position for construction

I lead the Adaptation and Resilience in the Context of Change Network, an initiative of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and located at the University of Oxford. 

We work with academic researchers and representatives from the built environment and infrastructure industries to develop better information and evidence so that we can prepare for the future climate.

“Society is also looking to the construction industry to provide many of the solutions as we adapt to our changing climate”

The construction sector has a special position. While climate change poses risks to its supply chain, personnel and established methodologies, society is also looking to the industry to provide many of the solutions as we adapt to our changing climate.

Adaptation is a process that will help to minimise the damaging effects of climate change, creating a modern environment that is better prepared for the incremental shifts and extreme shocks that lie ahead. 

The most comprehensive assessment of the climate risks facing the UK highlights that existing and potential threats come from flooding, land instability, extreme temperatures, extreme precipitation and drought.

For construction companies, some of the likely impacts will include the loss of or damage to buildings and infrastructure services, as well as restricted access to construction sites with the consequent risk of delays and disruptions.

Potential benefits

While future climate change is likely to be challenging, there may also be benefits.

Adapting to a changing climate will provide opportunities to develop new approaches as clients’ requirements change and the demand for adaptation solutions rises.

Water management is one area where innovation will be welcomed, while warmer conditions will put an emphasis on low-energy cooling strategies.

“The UK’s socio-economic well-being will rely on buildings and infrastructure systems that are prepared for current and future risks”

Adaptation solutions will be needed for retrofit and for new build, and will apply to domestic and commercial buildings as well as major infrastructure projects.

The good news is that research within the ARCC network is already providing information to help with better adaptation, such as tackling overheating, developing a robust energy network and planning an infrastructure system for the future.

Furthermore, the Technology Strategy Board’s Design for Future Climate programme has funded 50 adaptation projects, now available online, so that the whole sector can learn from their experience.

Why is adaptation important?

The UK’s socio-economic well-being will rely on buildings and infrastructure systems that are prepared for current and future risks.

A construction sector that is helping to address those risks will have a competitive edge, will deliver an adapting society and will create a resource to share across the world.

I am convinced that effective adaptation strategies will arise from the experience of professionals working in sectors such as construction, planning and infrastructure delivery being integrated with the best in visionary research.

Roger Street is project manager of the Adaptation and Resilience in the Context of Change Network

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