The Government must get a grip on national security risks posed by the effects of climate change on critical national infrastructure (CNI), warned a Westminster committee of senior MPs and peers chaired by Dame Margaret Beckett.
The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy has published a damning report, “Readiness for storms ahead? Critical national infrastructure in an age of climate change,” highlighting the effects of severe weather on power, water, transport and communications.
This includes almost a million people losing power, some for extended periods of time, after high winds brought down power lines in North East England and Scotland during Storm Arwen in November 2021.
It also pointed to the deaths of three people from a train derailment in Scotland, after heavy rainfall in August 2020, and a failure of railway drainage systems that nearly caused the National Blood Bank in Bristol to flood.
It has now called on Downing Street to establish a dedicated minister of state for CNI resilience within the cabinet office.
The committee also recommends regular regional exercises to ensure responders can prepare for a crisis, such as the emergency services and NHS, and for the creation of a statutory forum between regulatory bodies overseeing CNI sectors such as Ofwat for water companies and Ofgem for energy.
The report accuses the self-described minister for infrastructure resilience in the Johnson administration – then Cabinet Office Minister Michael Ellis MP – of a severe dereliction of duty for refusing to testify before them.
The threat to infrastructure could get worse
The report also pointed to experts warning that severe weather events caused by climate change are going to worsen over the coming years.
The committee held one of its evidence sessions in July during the heatwave when temperatures peaked at 40.3 degrees celsius.
It pointed to expert predicitions that high temperatures are likely to cause electricity cables to sag and roads to soften and rut.
Flooding is expected to be more severe, and the consequent failure of railway embankments more frequent.
Meanwhile, renewable power and electricity cables are more susceptible to the effects of extreme weather than gas and other fossil fuels, but are vital to the transition to a net zero future.
Dame Beckett said: “The thing I find most disturbing is the lack of evidence that anyone in government is focusing on how all the impacts can come together, creating cascading crises. There are simply no ministers with focused responsibility for making sure that our infrastructure is resilient to extreme weather and other effects of climate change.
“The new Prime Minister must pull all the strands of government together to mitigate against potential disasters, including climate change impacts. This Government must finally recognise that prevention is better than cure and move on from their dangerously reactive approach to risk management.”