Infrastructure: Adapting our Systems and Services to Survive Climate Change

6 minute read

Updated on: 30 Apr 2021

We can think of “infrastructure” as the physical or organisational systems and services that make up a society . This covers everything from travel and communication to the distribution of basic resources like water and energy . These networks are closely interconnected, meaning any disruption in one system will have knock-on effects for others . We can’t afford to lose these services so let’s explore how we might adapt them to rapid climate change.

How do we build a more climate-resilient society?

1. Climate-smart design

If we want to build climate-resilient infrastructure, our first option is to build it from scratch . For essential services, like healthcare, we can start by making sure that everyone has basic access by building hospitals and clinics where they are most needed . For example, in areas vulnerable to flooding, like Bangladesh, some communities now use ‘floating hospitals’ . We can also adapt our healthcare systems by recruiting more nurses and doctors and providing them with training on the health risks of climate change and how to treat them .

Image of Floating Hospitals

Floating Hospitals

The next step is using climate-smart design ideas such as choosing building materials that absorb and store large amounts of heat energy to naturally regulate indoor temperatures . Climate-smart design can also involve entirely new technologies, such as external building shades that move in response to sunlight or typhoon-resistant houses that can withstand wind speeds of up to 180km per hour .

2. Retrofitting

To save time and money, another option is to upgrade the infrastructure we already have. This is called retrofitting . Retrofitting can be as simple as installing heat sensors or painting our roofs, roads and railways white to reflect sunlight . If done properly, a white roof can reflect up to 80% of the sun’s energy, compared to just 5-10% for a black roof .

Image of Climate-smart design

Climate-smart design

In the previous chapter we looked at how sustainable water management will be vital if we are to adapt to our changing climate. A lot of this can be done by adapting our existing water supply network; simply fixing leaky water pipes could help prevent the loss of 20-30% of treated water !

Image of Fixing Leaky Pipes

Fixing Leaky Pipes

Moreover, upgrading our systems and services could play a big role in keeping us healthy too . For example, we can limit the spread of disease during flooding by updating our coastal defences and sewage systems to deal with excess stormwater .

3. Green Infrastructure

We can also make our cities greener by creating more space for nature . For example, natural features, like ponds, parks and woodland can help cities cope with climate change by soaking up excess stormwater and reducing local temperatures . These types of solutions are called green infrastructure, as opposed to man-made or ‘grey’ solutions .

Image of Green Infrastructure

Green Infrastructure

Green infrastructure can also improve people’s health . For example, increased plant life in urban areas has been shown to reduce heat-related death rates by 40-90% and is also linked to reduced stress levels and a stronger sense of community .

4. Nature-based solutions

At a larger scale, natural habitats can provide more affordable and long-term adaptation options .

Coastal habitats are a brilliant example as they provide important physical protection against natural disasters by reducing wave height by an average of 35-71% . They also absorb and store carbon , prevent the intrusion of saltwater on farmland , and are home to a rich array of plants and animals . For example, the benefits of having healthy mangrove forests are 10 times higher than the costs of maintaining them and 2 to 5 times cheaper than man-made coastal defences .

Image of Benefits of Mangroves

Benefits of Mangroves


It is important to remember that different places will experience different climatic risks . This means there is no simple roadmap for how to build a climate-resilient society . However, it is likely we will need a combination of both man-made and nature-based solutions in order to maintain the basic systems and services that we rely on .

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