The impact of climate change on infrastructure

Critical infrastructure such as transport, housing, electricity and water could be at major risk from sea level rise and extreme temperatures according to a new senate inquiry.

According to a report on the recent inquiry by the Environment and Communications References Committee, Australia has a significant amount of residential dwellings, buildings and infrastructure, with 2015 figures indicating that the eight million buildings across the country have an approximate replacement cost of $5.7 trillion.

With Australia’s varied and sometimes harsh climate, it is imperative that these buildings can withstand both the current climate and expected future changes to climate. The report states that one of the key concerns for Australia is that sea levels are rising as a result of ocean thermal expansion, with an increase in water entering the ocean from melting glaciers and ice caps.

Globally, sea levels increased between 1993 and 2016 at an average rate of 2.6 to 2.9mm per year, amounting to a total increase in the order of 7cm over that period.

“Most Australians live along the coast, and we’re staring down the barrel of sea level rise of 1.1m by 2100 and some 250,000 existing homes at risk of inundation,” said Ms Rice, Chair of the Environment and Communications References Committee.

“We’ll see the average number of over 35 celcius days more than double from the current eleven to 24 per year in Melbourne, from 28 a year to 63 in Perth, Brisbane more than quadruples from 12 to 55 but worst of all is Darwin, which will have 265 days per year where the maximum temperature is over 35 degrees centigrade.”

The impact of climate change on infrastructure assets used for transportation and utilities are the same as those generally faced by buildings.

The report states that rising sea levels will have the same consequences for essential infrastructure in low-lying areas as it will for houses and other buildings. However, it is critical to account for the interconnectivities and interdependencies between infrastructure types.

For example, electricity is essential for operation of many types of transport; however, resilient transportation assets such as roads are also needed for accessing electricity generation and network facilities.

Climate change may mean that the lifespan of these infrastructure assets is shorter than planned, or that maintenance costs increase significantly. It may also mean that repairs are needed more frequently, or that materials used in transportation infrastructure could deteriorate more quickly.

Higher temperatures are expected to increase heat stress on transport infrastructure, with sealed roads and rail lines then becoming particularly vulnerable.

According to Ms Rice, the evidence made clear that the cost of climate adaptation in a four degree world is simply too high to bear. She said that rapid reduction of carbon pollution is the only way that Australia will be able to adapt to climate change.

3 Comments
  1. Adrian Pollock 1 year ago

    Dear editor
    I sometimes despair about the thinking of seemingly rational people like engineers (and I am an engineer) and scientists when it comes to issues like climate change.
    This article reads as if a four degree increase in average world temperatures will be just another problem to be solved by human technological ingenuity.
    I think it is pretty clear that such a temperature rise would spell the end of life on earth as we know it, so talk of the effects on infrastructure are meaningless. At such extremes of temperature increase, not only have the sees risen, but the acidity of the ocean would be such that sea life would be destroyed, crops would have failed, etc – there will be more things to worry about than whether or not the bitumen is going to melt in the sun.
    The only solution to all the problems outlined in this article is a sustainable economy which does not affect the balance of life on earth – this can only be achieved by the end of capitalism and the world-wide adoption of socialist planning and the end of the rampant consumer culture.
    Otherwise, you may as well plan for the day your magazine will not be read because most readers will be dead or fighting to find food and water.
    Regards
    Adrian

  2. Felix Jury 1 year ago

    Where does Ms Rice find her empirical evidence that CO2 causes human global warming , there is no evidence of run away global warming , oceans are very stable and in some parts of the globe they have fallen a small bit .

    When we can control the Sun Spots which are very few at the moment then we might be able to influence the weather and there is no chance of this happening .

    In fact the Cosmic Rays have a lot to do with changing world climate when the Solar Winds go quite through a lack of Sun Spots .

  3. Robert Connor 1 year ago

    Dear Felix

    The earths atmosphere is a green house gas or it contains gasses that bounce back a portion of radiated heat from sunlight to the earths surface that would otherwise radiate to space.
    A good visual proof is to look at snow topped mountains, thin atmosphere, snow on top, same amount of exposure to sunlight.
    The thinner atmosphere allows more heat to radiate out to space.
    A good example of the two extremes are the planet Venus, lots of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and you can melt lead on its surface and Mars next to no atmosphere and it has frozen carbon dioxide at its poles (dry Ice).
    Mankind,s activities are currently altering the atmospheric gas balances reducing oxygen and increasing Co2 and Methane, both these gasses reflect radiant heat back to the earths surface.
    Basically we are digging up coal and oil supplies which are captured carbon from millions of years of deposits and using todays atmospheric oxygen to burn them.

    Thanks

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