Climate change is perceived as a threat multiplier for critical infrastructure, and has the potential to cause cascading effects across interdependent assets, systems and functions. In addition to well-acknowledged and partially quantified direct impacts to infrastructures, climate change may also induce indirect effects to the safety, security and structural integrity of the infrastructures.

According to the recently published IPCC AR5 report4 , climate change-related risks to infrastructures are increasing (including rising sea levels and storm surges, heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, drought, increased aridity, water scarcity and air pollution) with widespread negative impacts on people (and their health, livelihoods and assets) and on local and national economies and ecosystems (WGII AR5 – Chap8, summary).

Climate change is viewed as a threat multiplier which exacerbates existing trends, tensions and instability. It is important to recognize that the risks are both of a humanitarian nature and they also include political and security risks that directly affect European interests. The EC Council Report on “Climate Change and International Security” identifies the following risks arising from changes in climate:

  • Conflict over resources;
  • Economic damage and risk to coastal cities and critical infrastructure;
  • Loss of territory and border disputes;
  • Environmentally-induced migration;
  • Situations of fragility and radicalization;
  • Tension over energy supply; and
  • Pressure on international governance.

The IPCC special report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation5 assessed the current trends and future changes in the occurrence and intensity of extreme weather. For Europe the report states that more frequent heat waves have been observed in the past decades, and more frequent and even stronger heat waves are projected. In Southern Europe more intense and longer droughts are observed, and it is projected that due to reduced precipitation and/or increased evapotranspiration this trend will persist into the 21st century. The intensity of precipitation extremes such as heavy rain events has increased in the past 50 years, even for areas with a decrease in mean precipitation such as central Europe and the Mediterranean. All types of infrastructure have an enormous value, both directly as a capital asset and indirectly as an essential element contributing to a productive economy6. However, cost for non-operation or disruption can differ significantly, depending on the type and sector: While damage to a local public building usually has only local economic impact, damage to energy transmission infrastructure can potentially have wider, macro-economic consequences. There are many interdependencies between the infrastructure sectors and failure in one area can quickly lead to cascade failure. Energy, water, ICT and transport infrastructure are also often co-located (e.g. power cables laid below roads and beside communications cables, adjacent to water and gas mains and above sewers), especially in urban areas. Extreme weather events could conceivably affect (or disrupt) all of these infrastructure assets simultaneously.