How can engineering organisations successfully adapt to climate change?

BSI has recently published a new global standard to help organisations adapt to climate change. Civil engineer John Dora, who led the international drafting committee, says everyone involved in infrastructure should read it.

Toddbrook Reservoir above Whaley Bridge. Image credit: Patrick Down/Flickr
Toddbrook Reservoir above Whaley Bridge. Image credit: Patrick Down/Flickr
  • Updated: 21 October, 2019
  • Author: John Dora
Civil engineers have always been engaged in designing, building, operating and maintaining long-life infrastructure, some of which lasts for hundreds of years. But building and maintaining long-life infrastructure assets in the face of a changing climate is a relatively new challenge.  

Design and maintenance standards for weather resilience, where they exist, often refer to the past when it comes to weather and climate. Even the structural Eurocodes do not account for future weather and climate impacts. 

However, with increasingly visible weather impacts – not least the recent damage to Whaley Bridge Dam and Dawlish Sea Wall in the UK − a growing number of engineering organisations are now actively planning for the impacts of climate change.

In July this year, BSI published a new British standard to provide a good-practice approach to climate change adaptation.  


New global standard 

BS EN ISO 14090 describes principles, requirements and guidelines for adaptation to climate change for organisations and their projects.

These include managing climate risks, integrating adaptation into ‘business as usual’ within or across organisations, and helping organisations to identify and understand impacts and uncertainties, and how these can be used to inform decisions.

Creating a good adaptation plan helps organisations to report adaptation actions as well.  

The standard can be used by any organisation with activities, products and services that might be at risk from, or in some cases able to take advantage of, climate change.

Its long-term outlook makes it especially suited to those owning, designing, operating and maintaining infrastructure. 

The standard shows how to prioritise and develop effective, efficient and deliverable adaptation plans tailored to specific climate challenges faced. It sets out a consistent, structured and pragmatic approach to preventing or minimising the harm that climate change could cause.

To ensure choice and flexibility, the content of the standard is pitched at a high level, allowing activities to be tailored to the needs of an organisation.  


Infrastructure application 

Civil engineers familiar with BS EN ISO 55001 on asset management or BS EN ISO 31000 on risk management (BSI, 2018) will recognise some of the concepts used in BS EN ISO 14090 and should find it helpful in designing and implementing adaptation actions into policies, strategies, plans and actions related to infrastructure. 

The new standard originated from the UK and was convened by the author, a civil engineer with extensive experience of working on climate adaptation within infrastructure projects in the UK including Network Rail.

The standard supports the elevated need for climate actions, called for in the Paris Climate Agreement and also in the UN’s sustainable development goal 13 on climate actions, one of the key goals identified by the Institution of Civil Engineers requiring, ‘urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’. 

The climate is changing and buildings and infrastructure need to have adaptation built in to every part of them from design to materials.

Having a good adaptation plan for organisations and projects, using a standard like BS EN ISO 14090, provides assurance of good practice: not just for organisations but for regulators, customers and investors looking for security into the future. 

This article is based on the authors’ briefing article in the latest issue (172 CE4) of the ICE Civil Engineering journal. 
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