Hurricane Sandy newspaper headline collage

+ Designers need to account for climate change impacts and include the uncertainties of climate change in designs if systems are to become resilient.

I think organisations need to plan and prepare all their assets and systems to cope with climate change, both in terms of the changes in seasonal patterns and in extreme weather events that climate change is bringing. Even if the targets to cut Greenhouse Gas emissions are achieved we will still be exposed to some degree of change, which will impact us mainly through extreme weather events.

It is difficult to estimate the exact magnitude of the change (e.g. temperature degree) but we know it is happening and the direction of change. Designers need to make systems resilient to this uncertainty and be prepared. 

In order to design more resilient buildings, infrastructure and systems, designers need to combine both historic data with projections about the future climate. The inherent uncertainty in climate change projections introduces additional unknowns into buildings' and infrastructure’s future performance. Designers need to account for this increasing uncertainty if systems are to become resilient to climate change.

This is especially relevant for sectors that are pivotal to society’s day-to-day operation, such as water, energy, and information and communications infrastructure. For example, nowadays we rely on the continuous functioning of data centres, which are vulnerable to high temperatures during heatwaves and flooding. Similarly, if changing flood risks means emergency generators are vulnerable to flooding, they need to be redesigned or relocated. 

The increasingly interconnectedness of today’s infrastructure networks poses additional risks to be overcome. In the event that a freak storm damages a key telecoms facility, the danger might be that the ensuing loss of connectivity creates cascading failures, such as suspending key systems at a local power plant or hospital. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 caused many such connected failures. It also damaged data centres relied on by media organisations like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post. The issue of interconnected failures in vital aspects of our day-to-day infrastructure will require a ‘systems thinking’ response if climate change resilience is to be achieved.

In 2011 severe flooding in Bangkok closed thousands of factories, causing $45bn damage according to the World Bank. Major global brands including Apple and Toyota were forced to suspend production of their products. This illustrates the importance of considering the impacts of climate change on ever-more complex and interconnected global supply chains. 

It is clear that organisations need to plan their operations for a changing climate. Plan for changes to historical seasonal expectations and the dangers increasingly posed by extreme weather events.

How are you addressing the effects of climate change on your systems to ensure their resilience?