7 strategies for infrastructure resilience in a changing climate

7 strategies for infrastructure resilience in a changing climate
By Joanne Potter, MCP
Climate Change Lead + ICF Climate Center Senior Fellow
Jun 24, 2019

From Ghana to Puerto Rico to wherever you are, climate change is a challenge that knows no bounds—and it requires new ways of thinking about infrastructure resilience.

I recently returned from the Western Region in Ghana, where ICF colleagues and I have been working with district planners, engineers, and political leaders to incorporate climate change into their Medium Term Development Plans. Over the course of a week and a half, two teams of staff from the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency, the National Development Planning Commission, and ICF’s Ghana and US offices visited six districts to conduct training on climate change integration. In every district, local leaders are concerned about how climate change will increase their development challenges, and are working to assemble the information, technical capacity, and financial resources they need to tackle these risks. How can they ensure that their community’s infrastructure and services will be sustainable—that they make smart investments in the face of climate change? Our goal is to help local decision makers take proactive steps to ensure that their programs and infrastructure investments are resilient to a changing climate by defining key risks and shaping effective adaptation measures.

The effects of climate change on the people of Ghana

In Jomoro Municipal District, Ghana, the district assembly members and municipal staff know that climate change is serious, and they are acting to address it. In this lush coastal district on the Gulf of Guinea, residents are already seeing shifts in climate conditions that make it tougher for farmers and fisherfolk to achieve a strong harvest or bring in a good haul. And climate risks to the vital infrastructure that supports these workers and their families are on the rise too, threatening the economic and social vitality of the district. The area’s roads are frequently flooded, disrupting access to markets and services. Sea level rise and storm surge are taking a toll on coastal infrastructure and raising new questions about how to steer coastal development—including oil and gas investments and tourism--while protecting the area’s rich fisheries and marine ecosystems. Increasing high heat and extended dry spells are stressing public water supplies and sanitation systems. Severe storm events compound the problem of chronic power outages in the area.

These climate challenges are local to Ghana, but universal as well

This means that most of the world’s infrastructure is being built and repaired today without incorporating climate risk – putting billions in investment at risk.

The experience of Jomoro is not unique. Globally, infrastructure planners at the local, regional, and national levels are working to address current climate impacts and prepare for the future. The challenge is particularly acute in the global south, where most of the world’s new infrastructure is being built, at an increasingly rapid pace. Countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean need to double their annual investments in infrastructure to reach their development goals, according to studies by the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa and regional development finance institutions. And while some good work is being done to address climate risks to infrastructure, these approaches are not yet being incorporated into most plans and investments. It’s critical that integration of climate risk in infrastructure development become standard practice, worldwide, as rapidly as possible.

What will it take? 7 Strategies for Resilient Infrastructure

To help accelerate the process, a few of us ICF employees—notably Molly Hellmuth, Peter Schultz, and myself--worked with Doug Mason of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Alice Hill of the Hoover Institution, Jack Baker of the Stanford Urban Resilience Initiative, Bilal Ayyub of University of Maryland’s Center for Technology and Systems Management, and other leaders to pull together the best thinking on how to address climate risk in infrastructure investment. We wanted to distill the innovations already underway across various sectors, disciplines, and organizations to more quickly advance the state of practice—helping practitioners across the world protect their existing infrastructure and incorporate climate risk in future investments in practical, feasible ways. Through a series of conversations with leading thinkers and a stimulating workshop in November of 2018, we identified seven key strategies for resilient infrastructure, along with recommendations for next steps to get these strategies to scale domestically and internationally. The results are summarized in our paper, Ready for Tomorrow: Seven Strategies for Resilient Infrastructure, recently published by the Hoover Institution. I hope this paper helps spark more discussion—and action—across the wide range of people working to achieve sustainable, climate- resilient communities across our world.

After coming back from Ghana, I’m aware yet again of the immense challenge we face in addressing climate risks to the infrastructure services that we all rely on. And I’m encouraged by the strength and determination of local leaders, like those in Jomoro, who are working hard to secure a sustainable future for their community. It is my hope that the strategies we developed will help communities around the world stand strong in the face of a changing climate.

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Meet the author
  1. Joanne Potter, MCP, Climate Change Lead + ICF Climate Center Senior Fellow

    Joanne works with decision-makers to build resilient and inclusive communities by integrating climate change into their plans and investment decisions, with over two decades of global experience. View bio