Doug Mason is Director of Environmental and Social Performance at the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Through his work with five international development organizations and in the private sector, he has guided the development of $40 billion in infrastructure investments. Doug helped lead the development of standards for climate risk screening, which have been adopted by U.S. Government agencies with direct international investments. Currently he is a Co-Chair of the Federal Adaptation and Resilience Group.
Seven Strategies for Climate Resilient Infrastructure
July 9, 2020
We are in a race against time to improve the resilience of the world’s infrastructure. Demand for infrastructure investment is increasing worldwide. From 2015 to 2030, $90 trillion in new infrastructure investments will be needed—an amount equivalent to the world’s total existing stock. The need is particularly urgent in rapidly growing cities in developing countries. Yet this infrastructure is not routinely designed to be resilient to the impacts of climate change, putting it at significant risk.
To address this, the Hoover Institution convened a yearlong collaboration with leading experts and practitioners in development banks, government agencies, universities, private firms, non-governmental organizations, and professional associations in 2019. It drew on diverse perspectives to the challenges of resilience, including physical and social science, engineering, policy, finance, and education.
The resulting paper lays out seven strategies for developing more climate-resilient infrastructure. The strategies are:
Make better decisions in the face of uncertainty. The past is no longer a reliable predictor of the future, but that need not prevent us from making better decisions.
View infrastructure systemically. Infrastructure is embedded in a complex and interconnected world and includes natural, built, and human systems. Looking at infrastructure as part of a system provides the broadest, least expensive, and most effective opportunities to achieve resilience.
Take an iterative, multi-hazard approach. Infrastructure often fails as a result of a combination of natural events and breakdowns in social, technological, or institutional systems. However, conventional risk-management approaches typically consider only one stressor or risk at a time.
Improve and inform cost-benefit analysis (CBA). CBA plays an important role in shaping infrastructure choices. Yet as it is traditionally practiced, CBA can lead to less-resilient choices.
Mainstream nature-based infrastructure. The use of nature-based, or green, solutions as either alternatives or complements to conventional (gray) infrastructure can help reduce risks, enhance resilience, and support other objectives (such as the creation of green space and recreation areas). A combination of nature-based and conventional infrastructure may increase overall resilience.
Jump-start resilience with immediate actions. Some measures have low or no incremental cost and little potential for later regret. While these rapidly deployable measures are not a substitute for longer-term solutions, they can be useful starting points to reduce risk, demonstrate results, and build support for larger measures.
Plan now to build back better. Building back better can save money, and post-disaster periods can provide unique windows of opportunity to promote resilience. Significant funding is most likely to be available at these times, public interest and political will often are at their highest, and major steps to foster climate-resilient development may seem more feasible. To take advantage of this opportunity, planning should therefore occur well in advance of disasters so that strategies have been negotiated with stakeholders and are ready for quick deployment.
We need to dramatically scale up the resilience of our infrastructure investments. The group also suggested strategies to do this:
Invest in building human capacity and knowledge. We need to learn faster, as adapting infrastructure requires new skills and abilities in diverse fields.
Develop and update standards and manuals of practice for climate-resilient infrastructure. Most building codes and design standards do not account for a changing climate; and
Get the incentives right, mobilizing public and private funding, going above code, and reducing risky behaviors (such as rebuilding in flood zones after a disaster).
We look forward to your feedback, including examples of what worked well and what did not.