Government sets out five-year plan for boosting national resilience against climate change

The UK government has published its third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3) which sets out its strategic five-year plan to boost resilience against climate change risks, which includes several measures to boost resilience of infrastructure assets.

The 2008 Climate Change Act requires the government to complete a Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) every five years, followed by a NAP setting out how the government will address the risks identified in the CCRA. NAP3 details the government's plans for the period between 2023 and 2028 to address those risks identified in the CCRA3, published in January 2022.

NAP3 includes the government’s response to climate risks to infrastructure, which represent 13 of the 61 risks and opportunities identified in CCRA3. However, Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) director of policy Chris Richards has said that “the overall lack of urgency in the plan is deeply concerning”.

The programme includes commitments to embed an all-encompassing approach to climate resilience in line with the Government’s Resilience Framework – published in December 2022 – which sets out commitments to review standards, assurance and regulation of infrastructure sectors.

Another way the government will try to boost infrastructure resilience is through Adaptation Reporting Power (ARP). “The government will invite infrastructure operators to provide up-to-date information on the climate risks that affect them, and how they are managing them, through a fourth round of climate adaptation reporting under ARP. This will include how they collaborate to manage cross-cutting hazards that affect whole systems,” the report states.

Participation has been voluntary in the previous round of reporting. The government carried out a consultation on whether reporting should be voluntary or mandatory, but there was no clear majority on either side. The NAP3 document states that it has decided that fourth round reporting , which will be brought forward from 2026 to late 2024 ahead of the publication of CCRA4, will remain voluntary. The government stated it will review this position for the next round.

This goes against the ICE's recent call for asset adaptation reporting to become mandatory.

As part of NAP3, the government will also use the National Planning Policy Framework and sector-specific National Policy Statements to provide guidance on climate risk for new infrastructure proposals at both the local authority and government levels.

It will also produce recommendations on how to improve resilience across the infrastructure sector, based on the work it is carrying out with National Infrastructure Commission, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and UK Infrastructure Bank to better understand climate risk to infrastructure.

For water infrastructure, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will drive £2.2bn investment in water quality and resilient supply through the Plan for Water, helping to safeguard our water supply from the risks posed by the changing climate.

NAP3 sets out government plans for the energy sector as well. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) and Ofgem will designate parties responsible now and in the future for the maintenance of energy sector codes and standards with a clear mandate to build climate and weather resilience by 2024. The two parties will also use clear infrastructure resilience standards through price controls to allow network companies sufficient revenues to invest in the resilience of their sites and assets.

Over the NAP3 implementation period, DESNZ and Ofgem will provide advice and support as National Gas reviews its standards and specifications for construction of new assets to ensure climate resilience.

In terms of the transport sector, the Department of Transport (DfT) will develop a transport adaptation strategy taking a holistic approach to addressing the transport-related risks in the Climate Change Risk Assessment. The government will seek to consult on the strategy by the end of 2023.

The DfT will also expand its programme of research, development, analysis and innovation by the end of 2023 to fill priority evidence gaps and inform effective decision making on climate change adaptation measures across the transport system.

CCRA3 found that the risk of cascading failures arising from the interconnected nature of infrastructure networks has been significantly underestimated in the past. In response to this risk, the government “will ensure infrastructure operators can work together to address cascading risks, removing barriers to adaptation where these exist”.

Defra and the Cabinet Office will improve the ability of infrastructure owners and operators to access and use relevant climate information by working collaboratively with government agencies and infrastructure operators to better understand the potential impacts of climate change and inform resilience measures; inviting reporting organisations during the fourth ARP round to set out their approach to identifying and managing interdependencies with other sectors; and maximising use of the Met Office and Office for National Statistics resources by making high-quality climate data available, accessible and actionable.

“The government will use the CNI [Critical National Infrastructure] Knowledge Base, a bespoke CNI mapping tool, to identify risks and interdependencies across and within sectors, working with infrastructure owners and operators,” NAP3 states.

Environment secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “The UK has decarbonised faster than any other G7 country since 1990 – but the effects of a changing climate are becoming increasingly evident in the UK, as well as on a global scale, through a surge in the frequency and severity of heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires.

“By taking action now, through enhancing our infrastructure, promoting a greener economy, and ensuring resilient food production, we can protect our national security, economic stability, and overall resilience in the face of these climate challenges. This robust five-year plan will secure a more resilient, sustainable future for future generations.”

Commenting on the NAP3, Institution of Civil Engineers director of policy Chris Richards said: “Almost exactly a year on from the hottest day ever recorded in England, while record breaking heat and wildfires dominate headlines around the world, the impact of climate change is not some far-off threat. It is happening now.

“The UK needs to ramp up its adaptation measures. To do that, we need to understand what infrastructure is most at risk.

“Acting quickly would give us the opportunity to develop world-leading infrastructure that is fit for the future. Delay will only make the problems worse.

“While the government’s NAP3 makes some welcome commitments to examine adaptation on a systems-wide level, the overall lack of urgency in the plan is deeply concerning. It merely promises to review whether adaptation reporting should be mandatory by 2024/25, postponing the UK’s ability to determine what infrastructure is most at risk and what actions need to be taken.

“The Institution of Civil Engineers reiterates the call it made in March in response to the Climate Change Committee’s report on climate change adaptation. Make adaptation reporting for all infrastructure owner and operators mandatory so the UK can effectively plan for the changes that are happening now.”

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