Climate-resilient Infrastructure in a Changing Climate: Adapting to Challenges of the 21st Century
Climate change is a global challenge, rapidly becoming a defining issue of the 21st century. While taking immediate steps to reduce emissions can help limit global warming, the consequences of this warming are still unavoidable and will include increased frequency and intensity of extreme events, significantly impacting physical, social, and economic systems (IPCC, 2022).
The impacts of climate change, particularly in Africa, have been examined in several reports, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (IPCC, 2022) and the World Bank Group (2017) report. In recent years, Africa has experienced more frequent and severe climate-related events, such as floods, droughts, and heat waves (IPCC, 2022; WBG, 2017), and the continent is already facing the loss of lives and impacts on human health, reduced economic growth, water shortages, reduced food production, biodiversity loss, and adverse effects on human settlements and infrastructure as a result of human-induced climate change (IPCC, 2022).
Flooding is currently one of the significant threats to cities in Africa. In urban areas, the impacts of floods can be particularly severe due to the concentration of infrastructure and population (WBG, 2022). The demographic change caused by the high rate of natural increase, combined with the migration toward cities, leads to a strong demand for housing and promotes urbanization. Given the insufficiency or absence of adequate planning, many constructions are installed in flood-prone zones, often needing more infrastructure, especially drainage systems, which makes these cities especially vulnerable (Ramiaramanana and Teller, 2021).
West Africa’s coastal areas host about one-third of the region’s population, generating 56% of its GDP. According to a new world bank study, environmental degradation from flooding and erosion in the coastal areas of Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Togo cost $3.8billion, or 5.3% of the four countries’ GDP in 2017 (WBG, 2019). Similarly, Lagos is one of many coastal African cities exposed to sea level rise, which is expected to cost the city between US$ 3.7 and 9.4 billion by 2050 (IPCC, 2022). While cities are centers of innovation and economic activity, they also face significant social, economic, and environmental challenges that necessitate efficient infrastructure development and urban planning.
The effects of climate change further complicate the Sustainable Development Goals of reducing poverty and achieving other interconnected goals (UN, 2023). To withstand or adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, one good approach is to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure.
The Need for Climate-resilient Infrastructure in Africa
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2018), climatic-resilient infrastructure is planned, designed, built, and operated in such a manner that it predicts, prepares for, and adapts to changing climate conditions. It can also endure, adapt to, and recover quickly from disturbances brought on by climate change. Climate resilience is a process that continues throughout an infrastructure's lifecycle. Climate resilience measures can mutually reinforce with attempts to build natural disaster-resistant infrastructures.
Climate-resilient infrastructure minimizes the risk of climate-related disruptions, although it does not eliminate them. Climate risks to infrastructure can be mitigated by situating assets in less vulnerable regions (e.g., avoiding new construction in flood plains) and improving the assets' ability to cope with climate impacts when they occur (such as drainages that can handle increasing precipitations when they occur) (OECD, 2018). Infrastructure shapes the urban environment and drives long-term, equitable economic growth. Finally, the infrastructure incorporates a sustainable development lens – to ensure risk is not shifted to future generations.
Several challenges to developing climate-resilient infrastructure in Africa include limited resources and capacity, lack of coordination among stakeholders, and limited access to climate data and information (WBG AND UNECA, 2015; African Development Bank, 2022). Infrastructure in developing countries like Nigeria and most African countries is short-lived because most are constructed with inferior materials and are subject to corruption. Some of these infrastructures were not designed with climate change in mind, so their long-term viability is not guaranteed.
In recent years, there have been cases of degradation, series of erosions, floods, bridge failures, building collapse, road failures, and the outbreak of diseases, amongst others, as a result of extreme weather events caused by climate change (United Nations, 2020; WBG, 2019; WHO, 2022). Unnecessary weather events births hazards to the available weak infrastructure in terms of degradation and the lifespan of these infrastructures. After decades of underinvestment in Africa towards the SDGs, the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals could be considerably aided by climate action (UN, 2023) toward good and sustainable infrastructure.
Having established that resilient infrastructure is an adaptive measure for climate change, several actions are recommended to improve the reliability of current and future infrastructure in Africa.
Generating knowledge and building capacity among stakeholders, including policymakers, engineers, and communities, is essential to design and implement climate-resilient infrastructure projects. Investing in research and development in climate-resilient infrastructure can help to identify best practices and innovative solutions that can be scaled up and replicated in other contexts. This can involve collaborations between researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to identify key challenges and develop practical solutions that can be implemented. Notably, the Climate Research for Development Initiative (CR4D) has been launched to strengthen links between climate science research and climate information needed to support development planning in Africa (UNECA, 2023).
In addition to generating knowledge on climate-resilient infrastructure, promoting public awareness and engagement is essential to build support for these initiatives. This can involve working with local communities to understand their needs and priorities and incorporating their perspectives into the design and implementation of infrastructure projects.
Efficient monitoring and communications technology; and the use of alternative energy sources to minimize greenhouse gas emissions are all things that need to be rebuilt and redesigned in response to the changing climate. In the long run, the enormity of the potential impacts of sea-level rise, storm effects, and heat — in tandem with continuous changes in the natural environment — will demand attention and adequate investment.
In conclusion, building climate-resilient infrastructure is critical to sustainable development in the 21st century. We can protect people and property, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote sustainable development by designing, constructing, and maintaining infrastructure systems that can withstand the impacts of a changing climate. As the effects of climate change continue to become more severe, African governments and stakeholders must prioritize this work.
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