Climate-Resilient Infrastructure

Climate change is already threatening vital infrastructure such as road and rail networks, water and energy systems.

African countries and development partners are at an early stage of trying to understand and plan for what might be the main impacts of greater variability in climate. At present, many developing infrastructures in Africa continue to be built using plans based on the assumption that the climate in future will be similar to that of the present.

Taking a different approach, making these developing infrastructures more climate proof will add an additional level of complexity and cost to Africa’s development challenges, but will also add a new level of sustainability.

Power is one area where creating climate-proof infrastructure could play a major role in the development of the continent. With so much of Africa suffering from a shortage of power already, the opportunity is there to not only help to expand the power grids of Africa, but to do so in a sustainable, long term and carbon efficient way. This would create both challenges for the current power supply in the region, through fossil fuels, as well as opportunities for future power provision.

In the water sector, the effects of climate change on infrastructure are most clearly felt through the effect on the region’s rainfall. For example, lower annual rainfall in some parts of the continent has reduced the power supply capacity of hydroelectric dams. This lowering of annual rainfall also has the potential to negatively affect the availability of the water needed for the cooling of coal-fired power stations.

This situation is an example of the lack of readiness to deal with the impact of climate change – the coal power stations are built with the aim of helping solve the energy crisis in the short term, with little planning for the intermediate and long term. This is where investigating the potential for climate proof, renewable, forms of power – such as solar and wind power – could be effective. While there would be cost and logistical challenges, the installation of renewable energy would also help to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.

While a lack of water has had an effect on some areas of the continent, other areas are now experiencing an increase in the amount of rainfall they experience. Where there is an increase in rainfall there will also be an increase in coastal and inland flooding. This brings risks for the region’s road, rail and air networks, and the disruption that results from these events could have a strong negative impact on infrastructure and development in these areas.

With a lack of cohesive regional transport integration, individual countries feel the effects of climate change much more heavily. Through the development of multi-modal transport links and greater regional co-operation, the impact of these events could be greatly reduced, making transport infrastructure much less at risk to the effects of climate change.

There are significant cost implications for African governments and their development partners. However, it is hoped that in areas such as power supply, regional trade links could be established and strengthened, in order to reduce the cost for individual states – for example in Sub-Saharan Africa, 61% of the region’s hydropower potential is concentrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. Encouraging the nations bordering these countries to participate in energy trading would help to soften the financial impact of harnessing hydroelectric power, and furthermore reduce the need for more coal-fired power stations in the region.

With the heavy cost implications for all involved in these investments, it is important to establish infrastructures which not only work effectively in the present, but are also equipped to deal with future challenges. Recognising the risks associated with climate change is a valuable first step towards better planning of new investments in infrastructure and averting potential damage to existing infrastructures.

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