EXCLUSIVE: Climate change – a looming threat to US infrastructure

Climate change and critical infrastructure

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Joshua Letourneau, Chief Commercial Officer at Prosegur analyzes how implementing steps to mitigate climate change can improve the security of critical infrastructure.

Climate change

Climate change, once a subject primarily discussed in scientific circles, has now emerged as a pressing issue that threatens the security of critical infrastructure in the US.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has acknowledged the potential of climate change to destabilize societies and pose security risks, particularly to the nation’s critical infrastructure.

This recognition has led to a shift in focus, with climate change now being viewed as a ‘threat multiplier’, intensifying existing vulnerabilities and creating new ones.

The DHS has conducted vulnerability and adaptation assessments for the impact of climate change on energy and water systems, facilities, ICT and transportation.

These sectors form the backbone of the nation’s critical infrastructure and any disruption to these could have far-reaching implications for national security and the economy.

The rise in temperatures and the intensification of storms, for instance, could potentially damage or disrupt telecommunications and power systems. This poses challenges for infrastructure, emergency communications and the availability of cybersecurity systems.

Moreover, severe weather events could disrupt the operation of electricity power generation and distribution infrastructure, resulting in power outages and disruption to transportation and distribution of fuel supplies.

The DHS has identified five priority adaptation actions to increase climate adaptation and preparedness. These actions emphasize that low-income and minority communities can be disproportionately affected by climate change.

The benefits of the actions presented in the DHS Climate Action Plan are intended to be shared equitably and fairly, promoting resilience in underserved communities.

Taking action

Climate change can exacerbate preexisting instability by decreasing access to food and water resources, driving mass migration, increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and changing disease environments.

Addressing the climate crisis is a priority for the DHS as sea-level rise, severe weather events, diseases, workforce health and other direct disasters affect our assets and the nation.

Consideration of climate change (including adaptation, resilience and mitigation) using the best available science, data and stakeholder engagement must be thoroughly integrated into departmental strategies, policies, programs and budget planning processes to better inform decision-making and resource allocation.

This includes the design, construction and siting of new projects and infrastructure, which must consider and integrate climate adaptation to avoid damage, deterioration and destruction from the impacts of climate change.

According to a recent report, investing in early warning systems, resilient infrastructure, dryland agricultural crop production, mangroves and water resource management by 2030 would yield more than $7 trillion of benefits in avoided costs from climate change effects.

This highlights the economic benefits of proactive climate adaptation and resilience building, demonstrating that the costs of inaction far outweigh the costs of action.

The impacts of climate change on critical infrastructure are not limited to the physical damage caused by extreme weather events.

Changes in climate patterns can also have indirect effects on infrastructure systems. For example, higher temperatures can increase the demand for electricity for cooling, putting additional strain on the power grid. Similarly, changes in precipitation patterns can affect the availability of water for hydroelectric power generation and cooling of power plants.

The effects of climate change on infrastructure are also interconnected. The disruption of one infrastructure system can have cascading effects on others. For instance, the disruption of power supply can affect communication systems, water supply and transportation, among others.

This interconnectedness of infrastructure systems amplifies the potential impacts of climate change, making it a complex problem that requires a systems approach to address.

The DHS’s approach to addressing the impacts of climate change on critical infrastructure is commendable. The agency’s focus on vulnerability and adaptation assessments, priority adaptation actions and integration of climate considerations into decision-making processes are all essential steps in building resilience to climate change.

However, these efforts need to be complemented by similar efforts at all levels of government and by private infrastructure owners and operators.

The economic benefits of investing in climate adaptation and resilience are clear and these investments can also create jobs and stimulate economic growth, providing additional benefits beyond climate adaptation.

However, making these investments requires overcoming several barriers. These include the lack of awareness and understanding of climate risks, the lack of technical and financial resources for adaptation and the lack of incentives for private infrastructure owners and operators to invest in adaptation.

Overcoming these barriers requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders, including governments, businesses and civil society.

Feeling the impact

Climate change is not a distant threat but a present reality. Its impacts are already being felt across the US and around the world.

The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires are stark reminders of the urgency of the climate crisis. These events not only cause loss of life and property but also disrupt critical infrastructure systems, affecting the delivery of essential services and the functioning of our economy.

The impacts of climate change on critical infrastructure are not uniform but vary across regions and sectors. Some regions and sectors are more vulnerable than others due to their exposure to climate hazards, the sensitivity of their infrastructure systems and their capacity to adapt to changing conditions.

For example, coastal regions are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise and storm surge, which can inundate infrastructure and cause erosion. Similarly, the energy sector is highly sensitive to changes in temperature and water availability, which can affect the efficiency of power generation and the demand for electricity.

The vulnerability of critical infrastructure to climate change is further exacerbated by other stressors, such as aging infrastructure, population growth and urbanization.

These stressors can increase the demand for infrastructure services, strain the capacity of infrastructure systems and reduce their resilience to climate impacts.

Therefore, addressing the impacts of climate change on critical infrastructure requires not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also managing these other stressors.


While the US and some other nations are comparatively better equipped to manage the significant costs and disruptions anticipated due to climate change, thanks to superior resources for adaptation, they will still face challenging adjustments.

The repercussions of climate change, such as extreme heat, flooding and severe storms, will increasingly strain resources, necessitate changes in military deployment and escalate the need for humanitarian aid and disaster relief efforts.

Adapting to these shifts will often be a painful process and the adverse effects felt by populations in their daily lives will become increasingly challenging to reverse without effective measures to decrease net emissions and limit temperature increases.

Even if the most severe human costs can be averted, the impacts will still be substantial. The ongoing transition in the energy sector is already causing a rapid reallocation of investments, fostering the growth of new industries while causing others to decline.

In conclusion, the impacts of climate change on the US’s critical infrastructure are profound and multifaceted, posing significant challenges to our security, economy and way of life.

However, they also present opportunities for innovation, collaboration and transformation. By acting now and working together, we can turn these challenges into opportunities and build a resilient future for all. The time to act is now and the benefits of action far outweigh the costs.

This article was originally published in the July edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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