ICSI Explores the Role of Technology in Climate Resilient Infrastructure at London Climate Action Week

The sixth year of London Climate Action Week (LCAW) provided an opportunity for individuals and organisations to collaborate in finding global solutions to climate change. LCAW aims to demonstrate the whole-of-society engagement that is needed to support the delivery of decarbonisation and resilience, and to inspire other global cities to support similar initiatives.

As part of LCAW 2024 activities, The International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI), The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the UN High Level Climate Champions team co-convened the event Racing for Resilient infrastructure: Enhancing evidence-based decision-making for climate action in urban infrastructure. Hosted by Bentley Systems, this event included a fireside chat followed by some presentations and a panel discussion, all exploring how technological advancements can be leveraged to enhance evidence-based decision-making for urban climate action. 

Using tech to create the right enabling environment for climate-resilient infrastructure

The fireside chat was moderated by Seth Schultz, CEO of Resilience Rising, and focussed on how technology can help create the right enabling environment for climate-resilient infrastructure. The conversation included perspectives from a number of industry players with unique expertise on processes that are integral to climate adaptation and resilience. Amit Prothi, Director General of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) spoke on the topic through an international and intergovernmental lens, discussing how technology supports CDRI’s collaboration with national governments, UN agencies, multilateral development banks, the private sectors, knowledge institutions and so on. Kip Koskei, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Policy for the Insurance Development Forum, provided an alternative perspective, focusing on the utility of insurance and financing policies in climate resilient development. Eniola Mafe-Abaga, Global Advocacy and Partnerships Director for Bridges to Prosperity, addressed how data and technology can support engineers working on-the-ground within local contexts and the importance of ensuring that this technology is inclusive and community-led in order to sustainably support climate adaptation measures.

Participants discussed how technology could be used to de-risk climate resilience finance, primarily through reducing the challenges faced in visualising the problem, mapping the solution and scaling up efficient and effective methods already used locally. Additionally, when discussing whether technology can help facilitate industry partnerships, all three speakers agreed that technology enhances capacity for collaboration and communication and can therefore support the transfer of knowledge, allowing industry players to utilise expertise gained from different contexts. Finally, they discussed how data analytics can support investment decisions, providing investors with a more holistic understanding of the incentives, goals and risks of a project, and support them in visualising the outcomes, reducing investor uncertainty and subsequently supporting the funding of climate resilience. 

Showcasing tech for climate action in infrastructure

Following the fireside chat, Zubs Solaiman, Director of Product Portfolio at Bentley Systems gave a short presentation outlining the use of digital twins in climate resilience infrastructure projects. Using two examples – data analysis of pressure points along a dam; and immersive visualisation technology in inspecting an ageing bridge – Zubs displayed how technology can be instrumental in maintaining infrastructure and analysing both its risk and impact. 

This was followed by Matt Whaley, Principal Policy Officer for the Greater London Authority (GLA), and his presentation on flood mapping urban areas and planning infrastructural intervention in a complex urban context. He showcased the construction of SuDS (sustainable drainage systems) as a flood mitigation tool throughout Greater London, highlighting the supply-demand gap and how visualising the project using whole-system modelling and simulations can support the delivery of interventions such as raingardens. He also emphasised the need  for cross-industry collaboration, working with contractors and developers to allow for SuDS to be factored into pre-existing streetworks, saving both time and money.

How technology can enhance decision-making for climate adaptation and mitigation

The final component of the event was a panel discussion which looked at solutions for enhancing evidence-based decision-making for climate action.  The panel was led by Sarah El-Battouty, Architect and Global Ambassador of the Race to Resilience Campaign, who was joined by Zubs Solaiman and Matt Whaley, as well as Professor Mateus Simões, Vice Governor of Minas Gerais, Brazil, and Micheala Chan, Engineer at Arcadis and representative of WFEO Young Engineers/Future Leaders and ICE. 

Building on what was covered in the presentations, panellists touched on what technology exists right now that enhances decision making, and whether emerging technologies are proving themselves effective in implementing climate adaptation strategies. Barriers and restrictions were discussed, particularly that of the misplaced priorities of ‘innovation’ in contexts where affordability and utility are much needed. It was noted that the upscaling of a technical innovation is impossible when local contexts and climate risks are not considered and when assumptions are made about the available capacity and resources for implementation. These barriers need to be addressed, and the priorities of vulnerable stakeholders prioritised when considering the development of ‘innovative’ technologies. Innovation that is purely performative can be regressive when in the sphere of climate adaptation, and can even result in maladaptation.

It is through these cross-sectoral opportunities for collaboration that ICSI endeavours to support the uptake  of technological advancements throughout the climate adaptation sector in an inclusive and sustainable way. We look forward to advancing the conversation surrounding innovation in climate resilience for infrastructure and thank all the panellists and presenters for their time and valued input into such a vital conversation. Keep an eye out for the upcoming Climate Resilient Infrastructure Report: A Focus on Technology, due to launch at COP29, which will build on the topics discussed during this event and showcase best-practice case studies and initiatives that are using tech to enhance climate-resilient infrastructure.