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Vulnerabilities - Building

In 2003 the exceptionally dry soil conditions and clay shrinkage caused structural damage to buildings and increased leakage from water supply pipes. In southern England, insurance claims for building subsidence have been estimated to increase by €400 million in 2003 due to the exceptionally dry soil conditions (1). Clay soils are the dominant soil type in London (2).


The rise in groundwater levels in London due to changes in abstraction could be accelerated by increased winter rainfall although this is uncertain. One of the concerns of this is that the rising groundwater may build-up pressure beneath the clay layer which sits above the water containing chalk (the aquifer), thereby slowly increasing the saturation of the clay. This could affect the stability of certain foundations, in particular of tall buildings, and also of tunnels, which are drilled through the clay, resulting in subsidence and heave problems (3).

Southeast England

Work on building design suggests that southeast England, in particular, will experience a dramatic increase in cooling degree days of up to 200% by the 2080s – meaning that buildings will require more summer cooling (and less winter heating) to retain a comfortable internal temperature. Such effects vary geographically, with North West England and Scotland being less dramatically affected than elsewhere (4).


The housing stock in Scotland is poor but it is better protected from high winds, cold and wet conditions than stock in England and Wales, reflecting different building regulations (5). Five components of climate have a significant impact on buildings (5):

  • Temperature. Extremes of temperature generate thermal stresses in building materials. Temperature affects energy use and suitable natural ventilation or, less commonly, air conditioning must be available;
  • Wind. High winds cause damage to roofs, walls, windows and infrastructure;
  • Rainfall. Dampness is a major problem and, for houses with urgent disrepair, is likely to worsen in future. It is not clear whether driving rain will increase markedly. Driving rain generates problems of rain penetration;
  • Sea level. Rising sea levels will lead to more frequent flooding in exposed coastal dwellings.
  • River flooding.

East Midlands

Kersey et al. (6) presented an overview of the impact of climate change upon the built environment, with a special focus on East Midlands:

  • Chloride attack of buildings is likely to be reduced since its main source is de-icing agents, which will be used less at higher temperatures;
  • Higher indoor temperatures may also cause greater out gassing of solvents and other pollutants from building materials and furnishings. Meanwhile, higher temperatures in the walls and cavities of buildings could lead to increased release of formaldehyde into internal building space;
  • Timbers are at risk from the house longhorn beetle and termites which have established themselves in small colonies in the south of England (Berkshire and Hampshire) and when left for a period of time can cause serious damage. Their further spread is currently limited by temperature, so warming could result in their migration northwards;
  • Poor quality concrete lacks durability due to corrosion, frost damage, sulphate attack and alkali-silica reaction. Future climate is likely to exacerbate any concrete durability problems. Concrete can also react with atmospheric CO2 which will cause cracking, a process which will be accelerated by higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2. High alumina cement (HAC) converts to a form of lower strength at higher temperatures, as has been discovered in the past when HAC beams were used in swimming pools;
  • If driving rain becomes a greater problem, it may be necessary to redesign window detailing in England, perhaps adopting the Scottish approach, whereby windows are set on the inner rather than outer leaf. Greater protection of structures generally might be needed against rain penetration - eg using render, cladding, water repellents, etc.;
  • In high areas of high driving rain, cavity wall insulation can act as a bridge for moisture between the outer and the inner leaf of the structure, leading to penetration of rain through the structure. Where insulation becomes wetter, some of the energy savings from higher temperatures could be off set;
  • Suspended timber floors in flooded areas may be prone to water being trapped between the concrete underslab and the floor timbers, which could lead to rot. Suspended concrete floors could also be affected, with frost damage and sulphate attack being more critical;
  • Wind driven rain might get blown into the sub-floor space. And whilst an increased ventilation would also offset any increase in moisture ingress, higher relative humidities are likely to be encountered. The latter could result in greater condensation in buildings due to relatively higher humidities, roof voids being especially at risk. Higher winter temperature combined with higher vapour pressures could result in more severe problems;
  • An increased ventilation rate could supply more oxygen in the case of a fire. Wind speeds and high ventilation rates were noted as one of the contributory factors in the 1997 Heathrow Airport fire. The need for protection would increase as the risk from external sources of fire increased - such as drought in nearby woodlands;
  • Higher wind speeds are already included in structural building design, eg buildings are designed to withstand gusts up to 125 mph. An increase in the intensity of summer rainfall would test the ability of buildings to cope with excess surface water and may have implications for cellar flooding and erosion of buildings. Intrusion of sea water through coastal flooding has a very adverse effect upon buildings from which they may never fully recover;
  • In the East Midlands the distribution of wind damage increases from the East coast inland towards the south west of the Region. Domestic dwellings report the highest incidence of damage, being the most common type of building. However domestic dwellings also tend to perform less well in very windy conditions, because of age, poor workmanship or general deterioration. Much wind damage could be avoided if buildings with lightweight cladding and low pitch roofs are better designed and fixed, together with greater building inspection and maintenance;
  • Radon gas will become more mobile, which is an important risk in areas of limestone.

Other regions

West and Gawith (4) present an overview of expected climate change impacts on several activities for different regions of the United Kingdom, based on several regional scoping studies. The results for buildings are listed below. A blank cell indicates that no specific issues were identified for the region besidesthose noted in the first row.Each region identified and discussed issues differently, so this table might not provide comprehensive coverage of all issues.

Region Positive impact on buildings Negative impact on buildings Uncertain impact on buildings Majority of regions   Increased risk of subsidence. Reduced comfort in buildings for occupants in summer   South West   Vulnerable to flooding and storms   South East   buildings currently designed for past climates   London   Particularly sensitive to temperature increases because of urban heat island effect   East of England   Increased property damage. Overheating problems   East Midlands   Increased demand for air conditioning   West Midlands Reduced damage from frosts Intense rainfall and storm damage to buildings. Increased mould growth   Wales   Buildings on low-lying areas at risk of flood. Mismatch between climate and the location and design of buildings   North West   Urban heat islands more common. Increased cost of repair bills   Yorkshire & Humber   Building standards not suited for future climate. Increased urban drainage problems and more frequent sewer overflow   North East     Adjustments to air conditioning and heating needed to maintain suitable indoor temperatures Scotland Reduced damp related problems Increased damage from driving rain, storms and flooding   Northern Ireland   Increased damage form extreme weather. Septic tank operation affected by increased rainfall. Greater risk of condensation  

Vulnerabilities – Dams and Reservoirs

The Reservoirs Act (1975) holds for reservoirs holding more than 25,000 cubic metres of water. There are over 2,500 such reservoirs in the UK of which 530 are large enough to be included in the World Register of Large Dams. Climate change could well lead to an increased risk of failure of British dams, some of which are more than 200 years old (most of the UK dams are over 100 years old). Modern dams and reservoirs are designed and built to very high standards in Britain, but in the future, the safety margins will increasingly be eroded by climate change (7).

Failure can be caused by many factors, for example climate change could lead to subsidence of the dam foundations, landslip into the reservoir, or overtopping due to heavy rainfall. Around half of the 2,500 large UK dams have earth embankments, most of them constructed before heavy soil compaction equipment was available. Droughts could lead to cracking of the embankment wall, and climate change will lead to more droughts in the summer, followed by more rain in the autumn. This could impose additional loads, which were not considered when the reservoir was planned. Higher wind speeds over the reservoir surface could cause more frequent overtopping, leading to erosion of earth embankments unless suitably protected (8).

Due to the greater demand for water it is likely that more dams will need to be built, likely near urban areas. New technology could give early warnings of possible breaches in dams, embankments and flood defences (Synthetic Aperture Radar instruments on satellites).

It should be emphasized that no lives have been lost in the UK from dam failure since the Dolgarrog disaster in 1925 (8). During the floods of 2007 a dam at Ulley Reservoir, near Rotherham, was at high risk of breaching, putting in danger life and a number of other infrastructure assets, including the M1 motorway, a major electricity substation and the gas network connection for Sheffield. Although the highest profile incident, it was not alone. Many other dams were also affected (20).

Vulnerabilities - Water infrastructure

Water UK (9) summarizes impacts of the consequences of climate change on water infrastructure:

  • Pipe systems for both drinking water supply and sewerage will be more prone to cracking as climate changes lead to greater soil movement as a consequence of wetting and drying cycles;
  • Assets on the coast or in flood plains (that covers most of them – networks, water and wastewater treatment works, pumping stations) will be at increased risk from flooding, storm damage, coastal erosion and rises in sea levels;
  • Existing sewerage systems were not designed to take climate change into account. This means that more intense rainfall is likely to exceed the capacity of parts of the network and cause local flooding;
  • Dams will be more prone to siltation resulting from increased soil erosion, and the slippage risk to soil dams from intense rainfall events will also increase.

Water UK commissioned its own industry review of the flooding that affected many parts of the UK in 2007. Phase 1 of this work was published in February 2008 and Phase 2 in July 2008. The report links closely with the government-commissioned Pitt Review and emphasises the need to ensure that the increased threat of extreme weather events and climate change are taken fully into account in flood risk management and protection of critical water infrastructure (9). The floods of 2007 left 350,000 people without mains water supply for up to 17 days; this was the most significant loss of essential services since the Second World War. In total, five water treatment works and 322 sewage treatment works were affected by the 2007 floods (20).

Vulnerabilities – Transport - Overview

West and Gawith (4) present an overview of expected climate change impacts on several activities for different regions of the United Kingdom, based on several regional scoping studies. The results for transport are listed below.

A blank cell indicates that no specific issues were identified for the region besidesthose noted in the first row.Each region identified and discussed issues differently, so this table might not provide comprehensive coverage of all issues.

Region Positive impact on transport Negative impact on transport Uncertain impact on transport Majority of regions Less cold weather damage and disruption. Reduced need to grit roads in winter Increased risk of infrastructure damage. Increased disruption to services   South West   Flooding may sever rail link near Exeter. Coastal railways vulnerable to storm surges, high tides and cliff instability. Increased tourism may increase motorway congestion   South East   Disruptions to ferry service due to strong wind and wave activity. Insufficient water to maintain canal navigations   London   Passenger discomfort on underground Increased use of water transport East of England   Increased maintenance for roadside verges. Change in railtrack materials. Increased risk of road accidents. Increased susceptibility to landslips on rail embankments. Speed restrictions on rails.   East Midlands   Increased tourism could increase demand for transport. Overheating of diesel engines. Canals affected by drought. Landslips in upland areas   West Midlands Less need to de-ice aircraft and runways or to grit roads. Reduced need for railway point heaters in winter Increased rail safety and maintenance requirements. Reduced aircraft lift during take off at Birmingham Airport   Wales   Temporarily impassable roads   North West     Possible change in design of ships Yorkshire & Humber Reduction in fog days disrupting major transport routes Disruption to transport services, particularly in coastal areas   North East       Scotland Reduced heat stress on tracks Disruption to shipping, ferries and vulnerable harbours. Increased leaves on track problems due to increased tree growth   Northern Ireland   Aire services and seaports become less reliable. Transport to and from NI will be more adversely affected than transport to and from other regions of the UK  

Vulnerabilities – Transport - Shipping

Low summer flow events are expected to become more extreme. Increased intensity of storm events is expected to scour more river banks (dry catchment soils will be more susceptible to erosion exacerbating this issue), collect more urban and agricultural pollution and hence contribute more sediment and pollution to water bodies. Climatic changes that create conditions favourable for invasive species may increase the impacts on more than just the indigenous species they displace. Some aquatic weeds form dense mats or stands that may block water industry infrastructure and irrigation, navigation and river channels (10).

Existing infrastructure for shipping and ferry operations in Scotland is largely robust against the existing forces of wind and tide (5). The design of new ports, piers and ferries, and alterations to existing ports, piers and ferries will have to take predictions of climate change into consideration. Improved information on storm frequency is vital.Harbours already vulnerable to flooding are liable to become more so in the future. Occasionally, harbours may stand to gain from an increase in the mean sea level because ships of greater draught could be accommodated. For instance, the depth of the channel at Aberdeen Harbour is presently limited by underlying rock. In other cases, geographic considerations or the existing layout of ports means that sea level rise and storm surges are not a major problem (5).

Vulnerabilities – Transport - Road

The total cost to England and Wales of the major road disruptions during the Autumn 2000 floods were estimated by FHRC to be approximately £72.9 million, including vehicle costs, value of time lost, and a willingness to pay multiplier for stress and anxiety. Scaling up on the basis of population size to include Scotland and Northern Ireland, and including a multiplier of 2 for the knock-on effect on congestion and subsequent time losses on roads to which the disrupted traffic has been diverted, results in an estimate of total damages due to road disruption of £194 million (in 2000 prices) (14).

The physical impact of climate change is not one of the primary factors forcing change in the sector. However, maintaining roads is a substantial expense for local authorities and risk assessments of changing maintenance costs are likely to be required (5).


Road surfaces may become buckled and weak during periods of high temperature. In the summer of 1995, which was unusually warm, roads were subject to ‘bleeding’ as the materials used in the surfacing melted. This led to an increase in the rate of deterioration of the road surface. High temperatures also cause expansion of the steel and concrete used in some roads and bridges. In concrete roads, typically constructed some time ago, many of the expansion joints have failed. This could increase the maintenance requirements in order to minimise travel disruption. However, the impacts on the transport infrastructure will be critically affected by the design specifications (14).


Heavy rainfall could increase the risk of delays from roads blocked by floods and embankment slippage. Although main roads have been designed to withstand incremental changes in weather and have generally been over-specified to cope with such variations, they do not have such ability to cope with more extreme weather events, such as increased incidences of heavy rainfall. On the other hand, older roads that are maintained less frequently may have poorer foundations and drainage. Therefore, there may be more damage to these roads from even incremental increases. On these roads, increased rainfall might increase the run-off and wash away structures and foundations (14). During the floods of 2007 some 10,000 people were left trapped on the M5

The potential increase in the number of intense winter precipitation events could add extra pressure to the drainage systems on roads. The current design specifications suggest that the drainage system will cope with a summer thunderstorm lasting 15 or 20 minutes. However, a longer-lasting storm, or a number of storms without significant time between them, could overload a system built to current specifications. This could cause water to flood onto the carriageway as the drains became full (14).

Milder winters

One possible positive effect of milder winter temperatures is the decreased maintenance required to counteract the effects of low temperatures. In particular, local authorities undertake salting or gritting of road surfaces to prevent ice formation on road surfaces in freezing conditions. The time and budget dedicated to this might be reduced if the number of days of freezing weather falls. The number of accidents resulting from skidding on untreated roads might also decrease (14).

Vulnerabilities – Transport – Rail

Rail transport may be affected by climate change because droughts, high and low temperatures, and high precipitation volumes affect the stability of rail infrastructure, and (flash) floods and landslides may increasingly damage the rail network. In the United Kingdom, rail transportation costs related to extreme precipitation / floods and other extreme events, which had been estimated as £ 50 million a year (2010), might increase to up to £ 500 million per year by the 2040s (21). 


Possible temperature-related climate change impacts on the main line railway network of Great Britain have been assessed. Regional climate model projections for the future period 2030–2059 under the A1B emissions scenario have been used and compared with the baseline period 1971–2000 (18). The main findings include projected increases in the summertime (May–September) occurrence of temperature conditions associated with

  • track buckling; the statistical significance varied with track condition and location.
  • overhead power line sag; the increase is statistically significant in the south and east of England only, where the magnitude of the increase is a threefold to sevenfold increase.
  • exposure of outdoor workers to heat stress; the increase is statistically significant in the south and east of England only, where its magnitude is a twofold to a ninefold increase.
  • heat related delays to track maintenance; the increase is statistically significant at the 5 % level across Great Britain. The magnitude of the change is almost a threefold increase in some parts of Scotland.

The results include projected decreases in the wintertime (November–March) occurrence of temperatures conditions associated with freight train failure owing to brake problems. The change is statistically significant at the 5% level across Great Britain, and its magnitude is between −70 and −20 % (18).


The decrease in summer rainfall could result in soil shrinkage, particularly of clay soils, which could in turn affect the stability of rail structures. Where bridges, tunnels, cuttings or embankments are affected, additional structural support could be needed to counteract the effects of the shrinkage (14).


On the other hand, the wetter winters may increase the risk of landslips when previously dry land becomes saturated and unstable. The increased average winter precipitation could cause problems for the ballast and subgrade used in the foundations of roads and railways, in particular for railways since it is not protected by a sealed top layer. Increased rainfall can wash the smaller particles from the structure, reducing its cohesiveness, and its strength when put under pressure. The performance of the ballast is also dependent on the support layers below. When the soil is saturated, the strength of the overlying ballast is reduced. Although the risks associated with this differ according to the particular site, the importance of adequate drainage is fundamental (15).


Flooding also causes problems for the rail network. Standing water on the tracks conducts the electricity in a way that mimics a train, so that the flooded area shows up as an unexpected train on the control systems. Therefore, in order to maintain safety, engineers are required to attend sites to check that flooding is the cause of the confusion (14). Flooding and associated problems from excess precipitation is identified as the major source of concern for rail transport in Scotland (5). Railtrack Scotland perceives flooding as a key issue since flash floods can lead to landslides (e.g. Lockerbie in autumn 1998). Consequently, embankment stability is monitored. More intense rainfall events in the future will increase this risk of landslides. During the floods of 2007 there were 148 flooding or bank-slip incidents on the rail network as a consequence of the rainfall and several ‘pinch-points’ became blocked, destroying the continuity of the network (20).

Future changes in climate imply a reduction in problems caused by ice and snow. Lower variability in daily and seasonal temperatures would also be beneficial by reducing the heat-stress on track.

Vulnerabilities – Transport – London Underground

The London Underground may be affected by longer periods of excessive heat, and more frequent heavy rainfall and flooding.

Flooding and heavy rainfall

The risk of flooding in the London Underground Rail Systemis a major and urgent one, and is being taken very seriously by London Underground Ltd. The extent of the problem was revealed on 7th August 2002, when intensive rainfall led to flooding of a number of tunnels and closure of stations and parts of the network, including Chalk Farm, Kentish Town, Belsize Park and Wandsworth. The amounts of water entering tunnels, either from groundwater seepage or flooding from the surface, have been increasing but no figures for amounts are available (2).

There are well-established procedures in place to deal with pumping water from tunnels, including a combined water pumping strategy, in which groundwater surrounding the tunnels is pumped via boreholes to local water courses, preventing water from entering the tunnels at all. Such pumping does raise the risk of the pumped water being replaced by saline water intrusion. Many lines have flood gates to prevent water entering stations.


The London Underground Ltd. (LUL) has examined the possibility of installing air conditioning but has indicated that this is not a practicable option. The reason is that the Underground was not designed with AC in mind and there is not enough space within the tunnels for additional AC units to be attached to carriages. The London Underground is the oldest in the world, dating back to 1863, and only in the most recent systems, such as those in Hong Kong and Singapore, has AC been employed (2). The heat in the tunnels is of particular concern. This heat is primarily due to train operations, particularly through the heat produced from train braking mechanisms, as well as insufficient ventilation to remove said heat (22). 

Vulnerabilities – Critical infrastructure

Previous ABI research has shown that, on the east coast, 15% of fire and ambulance stations, 40% of electricity sub-stations and 15% of petrol stations are at risk of flooding in a storm surge. Furthermore, the Environment Agency has identified nearly 5,000 infrastructure sites in England and Wales where the flood risk is greater than one in 75 years. This includes 2,215 power stations and sub-stations, 737 sewage and water treatment works, 680 health centres and surgeries and 401 schools. While this does not take account of site-specific flood resilience measures, it demonstrates how much critical infrastructure is potentially at high risk (11).

Stronger requirements are therefore needed for utility companies to safeguard their essential facilities. During the summer floods, it became clear that critical infrastructure was woefully exposed, despite the lessons of previous flood events. This resulted in social and economic impacts far beyond directly affected areas. For example, 42,000 people were left without power for 24 hours and up to 600,000 people came within a few inches of a mass blackout after flooding caused the Castlemeads electricity substation to be switched off and nearly caused the Walham electricity substation to be closed in Gloucestershire (11).

When water flooded the Mythe Treatment Plant in Tewkesbury, 140,000 homes across the region were left without running water for up to two weeks. Around 13,000 homes were without electricity in Sheffield. Humberside Police Headquarters was flooded, along with numerous schools, leisure centres and key transport routes. Indeed, some of the leisure centres that were flooded were themselves intended as evacuation centres. As the independent review into the flooding in Hull concluded, the fact that 91 out of 99 schools in Hull were affected had a large social and economic effect, forcing parents to take time off work, lose earning and in some cases lose their jobs. Furthermore, there was no list of key strategic locations and infrastructure identified as important to defend (11).

In a framework for action, and with respect to the critical national infrastructure, the vulnerabilities have been stressed of (12,13):

  • the water and sewerage infrastructure (increased risk of summer water shortages; increase in water quality problems).Storm events may increasingly affect storm drainage and sewers, which are already highly susceptible to flooding, thus impacting on underground cables, pipes etc. for electricity, telecommunications and other utilities;
  • transport (less risk of disruption from cold weather and fog, increased pressure on infrastructure due to heat, changing rainfall patterns and extreme weather events), and
  • energy infrastructure and networks (vulnerable to flooding, storms and extreme heat). Also rising sea levels may increase the number of underground cable faults.

Vulnerabilities – Infrastructure - Telecommunications

West and Gawith (4) present an overview of expected climate change impacts on several activities for different regions of the United Kingdom, based on several regional coping studies. The results for telecommunications are listed below.

A blank cell indicates that no specific issues were identified for the region besides those noted in the first row. Each region identified and discussed issues differently, so this table might not provide comprehensive coverage of all issues.

Region Positive impact on telecommunications Negative impact on telecommunications Uncertain impact on telecommunications Majority of regions   Increased risk of infrastructure damage and 'down time'   South West   Vulnerable to flooding and storms   London       East of England   Increased 'down time' from extreme events  

Benefits of climate change - Building

Any reduction in temperature variability will reduce the likelihood of thermal stresses. Warmer weather, in part, will help combat dampness and less energy will be required to heat dwellings to an appropriate level. Summer temperatures in Scotland will probably not reach sufficient levels for air-conditioning to become the norm (Kerr et al., 1999). The building industry will benefit from an increased number of available construction days; in summer due to fewer rain days and in winter due to fewer frosts (2).

Adaptation strategy – Building

The expected lifespan of new and existing buildings (say 20 to 100 years) allows issues related to the built environment can be considered over a similar time period to that of current climate change predictions (12). The building stock is replaced at about 1% per annum. So, as well as considering design strategies for new-build, it will be important to consider the refurbishment and maintenance of existing buildings to accommodate climate changes. The location of new development must take account of the increased potential for coastal, riverine and urban flooding.

The construction industry is ill-informed about, and ill-prepared for, climate change impacts. Wide ranging education and training is required across the whole sector. There is considerable need to increase awareness of potential climate change and implications for the whole of the construction industry, particularly building design. Standards and design criteria within existing industry practice guidelines will need modification. It will also be essential to shift sector use of meteorological data from historical to future based data as the basis for technical decisions when revising codes and regulations relating to housing design and construction (12,16):

  • Design roofs in anticipation of 5-10% increase in wind loads;
  • Utilize green roofs to insulate against heat gain and reduce stormwater runoff;
  • Increase foundation depths by around 0.5m in susceptible clay soils;
  • Design for driving rain assuming higher levels of climatic exposure;
  • Avoid floodplains;
  • In areas with flooding potential, use ground-floor spaces for flood-compatible uses such as car parking, or raise the ground floor above likely flood levels;
  • Raise floor levels, and avoid underfloor wiring in vulnerable locations;
  • Design drainage systems and entrance thresholds to cope with more intense rainfall;
  • Design buildings for improved natural ventilation;
  • Anticipate reduced heating load in winter, and design for passive cooling in summer;
  • Increase use of swales and on-site water storage;
  • Use permeable surfaces wherever possible.

Building design also needs to take full account of future potential water constraints, through use of ‘grey water’ recycling and other water conservation practices (2).

Planning can help to avoid problems from flooding and coastal erosion. In addition, the finance industry may take a stronger view about future-proofing building designs as pressures build on insurance companies to increase premiums or withdraw totally from insuring buildings in certain vulnerable locations. The focus should be on the shift in emphasis from heating to cooling, particularly in urban locations, and in the south of the region.

Insulation helps to control the temperature in the summer and winter, so should make houses better adapted to higher external temperatures. Grey-water recycling systemsare a useful means of storing excess stormwater for later droughts. Rain water is collected, stored in tanks and used for the toilets, washing, gardening, etc (6).

By 2020, 80% of the houses which are already present will still be standing. This raises the question of how much retrofitting could be done to existing buildings to adapt to climate change and make them more energy efficient and more generally climate-change sensitive. It is generally rather expensive to adapt existing buildings in this way costing perhaps £5000 to £7000. It will be difficult to persuade individuals to invest independently when there is reluctance to pay for loft insulation, which is much cheaper and has a very short pay back period. In Germany, grants are available for installing rainfall collection systems in the home. Many more new homes also have such systems. It may be that at the aggregate level, retrofitting would be more economical than SevernTrent building a new reservoir and piping the water from Wales (6).

The redevelopment of Redhill School, Worcestershire undertook possibly the first climate change impact assessment at the start of a design process in an English school (17). The £2.7 million project involves a replacement primary school on the site of the former 1960s building. The school aims to have a low carbon building that is able to cope with climate change and will provide a comfortable teaching environment over its lifetime. Some of the adaptation features of the school to help it to withstand climate change impacts include:

  • a sustainable urban drainage scheme using swales, ponds and underground box storage,
  • a rainwater harvesting scheme, used for flushing toilets, takes rain from approximately half the roof area. Other roof areas have a planted roof finish (sedum) to reduce run-off,
  • extra shade for pupils and teachers, provided by overhanging eaves and external canopies to the classrooms,
  • zinc sheet roof coverings, with standing seams, that may be less vulnerable to high winds than roofing tiles.

Adaptation strategy – Transport - shipping

It is more likely that additional capital investment will be undertaken at larger ports. This will raise structures and penstocks, strengthen seawalls and adapt shifting equipment and cranes. New lock gates may need to be installed. The construction of new sea defences in adjacent areas may be required. Ferries can be redesigned to increase the belting area though this will increase the weight of the boats and reduce their carrying capacity. As ferries are designed for a 20-year life span, though many last longer, it should be possible to introduce new designs to take account of the potential for climate change (5).

Adaptation strategy – Transport – roads and rail

Options for adaptation of roads and rail infrastructure are (16):

Raise levels of dykes in areas vulnerable to flooding;

  • Relocate coastal roads, rail lines and other infrastructure subject to sea-level rise;
  • Assess and retrofit vulnerable transportation infrastructure systems such as culverts, tunnels, bridges, subway entrances, etc.;
  • Ensure critical components such as switch gear or substations are above flood levels;
  • Investigate transportation modal shifts (from subways to private cars, for example) in response to high heat;
  • Ensure alternative routes are available in case of disruption and/or need for evacuation.

In Scotland at present rapid response teams are employed to clear drains or divert floodwater away from railways in emergencies. Such reactive emergency response measures are very expensive. The prospect of a significantly changed climate would require a re-assessment of approaches to tackle such emergencies (5).

Solutions to compensate for the projected impact of an increase of the incidence of high temperatures on the main line railway network of Great Britain would require significant investment. An example of a possible infrastructural change is changing the structural form of the track—e.g. replacing the traditional ballasted track with sleepers with continuous concrete slab track, as used on high-speed lines in (for example) Germany. Although this track generates more noise, it requires less maintenance than ballasted forms as the maintenance issues associated with ballast are removed (19).

Adaptation strategy– Transport – London Underground

An interesting adjustment response to high underground temperatures by LUL in July 2001 was to distribute cold bottles of mineral water to all passengers at selected stations, e.g. Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus. Other potential strategies include using water pumped from tunnels as a coolant, and several collaborative projects with universities are trying to deliver ‘cool, clean air’ into the Underground. The infrastructural costs of installing water-based heat exchanges would, presumably, be high.


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for the United Kingdom.

  1. Eisenreich (2005)
  2. London Climate Change Partnership (2002)
  3. ABI (2002), in:London Climate Change Partnership (2002)
  4. West and Gawith (2005)
  5. Kerr et al. (1999)
  6. Kersey et al. (2000)
  7. Babtie Group and the Institute of Hydrology (2002),in: Crichton (2003)
  8. Crichton (2003)
  9. Water UK (2008)
  10. ICF International and RPA (2007)
  11. Association of British Insurers (2007)
  12. C-CLIF and GEMRU (2003)
  13. Defra (2008)
  14. Anderson et al. (2003)
  15. TRL (2002), in: Anderson et al. (2003)
  16. Clean Air Partnership (2007)
  17. Department of Energy and Climate Change of the United Kingdom (2009)
  18. Palin et al. (2013)
  19. Cook (1988); Jones and Thompson (2001), both in: Palin et al. (2013)
  20. Pitt Review Team (2008)
  21. Rona (2011), in: UNECE (2020)
  22. Mortada et al. (2015), in: Greenham et al. (2023)

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