Britain’s critical infrastructure will be more at risk from extreme weather if the world waivers on its commitment to net zero targets, according to exclusive analysis for Sky News.
Power stations, transport networks and airports are all more likely to be damaged or disrupted as global average temperatures climb higher, data from risk assessors Climate X shows.
The UK government recently watered down green commitments to save money on household bills.
But analysis suggests that, if other countries do the same, there will be higher long-term costs from shoring up or repairing infrastructure to keep the lights on and supermarket shelves stocked.
Navjit Sagoo, science engagement officer at Climate X, said: “Net zero is not as expensive as doing nothing. Doing nothing is always more expensive.”
Climate X advises insurance companies and businesses on climate risks and resilience.
It looked at about 22,000 buildings and other infrastructure assets for Sky News using a “digital twin” of the UK to model how they fared at two different climates in the year 2100.
In the first, the global average temperature rose by 1.6C from pre-industrial levels and would only be achieved through rapid cuts to greenhouse gases.
In the second, the global temperature rose by 4.3C, consistent with much weaker climate action.
The results show that power stations, rail and Tube stations, motorway junctions and airports were all more at risk from at least one climate hazard at the higher temperature.
“Our infrastructure wasn’t built to withstand these kind of climate extremes,” said Dr Sagoo.
“We will have hotter weather, so things will be stressed more from the heat, and we’ll have wetter weather as well.”
Of the 4,000 energy facilities analysed, 100% were at risk from storm damage at 4.3C, compared with just 60% at 1.6C.
Climate X took a closer look at Pembroke and Staythorpe power stations, which provide electricity to nearly seven million homes.
With rapid cuts in carbon emissions, the Pembroke site is likely to flood every 60 years and Staythorpe every 40 by the end of the century.
But with weaker climate action, then Pembroke could flood every 42 years, and Staythorpe every 17.
Climate X also assessed the risk to more than 14,000 rail and Tube stations.
In the cooler of the two scenarios studied, 61% would be at risk from storms and 18% from subsidence by the end of the century.
But in a far hotter future, that increases to 100% and 28%.
Road transport could also become more difficult in the hotter of the two possible future climates, with 18% of motorway junctions at risk of river flooding.
Keeping the rise in temperature to just 1.6C would put 11% at risk of flooding.
“It definitely becomes more real when you think about climate change in terms of infrastructure rather than just warming,” said Dr Sagoo.
“The train station you rely on to go to work, that’s going to be flooded. Or the airport you use to go on holiday will be impacted.
“The more severe the warming is, the more frequently those events are going to happen.”
The UK is already seeing more extreme weather as global temperatures rise, so far up 1.1C since pre-industrial levels.
Hastings on the East Sussex coast has flooded twice this year after torrential rain.
Hastings Furniture Service, a charity that provides affordable furniture to low-income families, lost £20,000 of stock after being flooded to a depth of 3ft.
Kate Davidson, who leads the charity, said volunteers had been “heartbroken” by the damage. She’s now thinking about how to make the service more resilient.
“Maybe we have to have a bit of a ramp up to the next building, just to lift it a little bit, which sounds bizarre in Hastings or in England.
“I think we need to be a little bit higher.”
The government’s climate advisers, the Climate Change Committee, has also warned that the UK is unprepared for the impact of more extreme weather.
It highlighted the risks to the economy from power system failures and the supply of food and vital services if distribution networks are blocked.
The government’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero told Sky News that it has a plan to increase the country’s resilience to climate risks, with “billions” being spent on adaptation measures such as flood schemes.
Power companies have also been told to risk assess their assets to gauge their resilience.
In a statement, a government spokesperson said: “We are on track to deliver our net-zero commitments, and are taking a fairer and more pragmatic approach to meeting them, easing the burden on hard-working families.
“Our third National Adaptation Programme sets out a robust five-year plan to strengthen infrastructure, and promote a greener economy in the face of the climate challenges we face.”