Policy Statement 360 - Impact of Climate Change

 

Approved by the Energy, Environment and Water Policy Committee on February 3, 2015
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on February 25, 2015
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 18, 2015

Policy

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports:

  • Government policies that encourage anticipation of and preparation for impacts of climate change on the built environment.
  • Revisions to engineering design standards, codes, regulations and associated laws that govern infrastructure potentially affected by climate change.
  • Research, development and demonstration to advance recommended civil engineering practices and standards to effectively address climate change impacts.
  • Cooperative research involving engineers with climate, weather, and life scientists to gain a better understanding of the magnitudes and consequences of future extremes.
  • Informing practicing engineers, project stakeholders, policy makers and decision makers about the uncertainty in projecting future climate and the reasons for the uncertainty.
  • Developing a new paradigm for engineering practice in a world in which climate is changing but the extent and time of local impacts cannot be projected with a high degree of certainty.
  • Identifying critical infrastructure that is most threatened by changing climate in a given region and informing decision makers and the public.

Issue

There is strong evidence that the climate is changing and will continue to change.  Climate scientists project that there will be substantial increases in temperature with related increases in atmospheric water vapor and increases in extreme precipitation amounts and intensities in most geographic regions as a result of climate change.  However, while there is clear evidence of a changing climate, understanding the significance of climate change at the temporal and spatial scales as it relates to engineering practice is more difficult.  

There is an increasing demand for engineers to address future climate change into project design criteria; however, current practices and rules governing such practices do not adequately address concerns associated with climate change.  Modeling tools available to climate scientists to project climate change at global and larger regional scales are not adaptable to a local or smaller regional scale for engineering practice without the introduction of higher uncertainty. Practices currently employed by engineers to address uncertainties in certain design fields may not be applicable when accounting for uncertainty due to climate change. Current engineering design standards, codes, regulations and associated laws that govern infrastructure are currently not structured to allow design adaptation to address climate change. 

Rationale

Climate change poses a potentially serious impact on worldwide water resources, energy production and use, agriculture, forestry, coastal development and resources, flood control and public infrastructure. Examples include:

  • Alterations to the surface and groundwater patterns that will require changes to water power-generation industry, flood control, and water supply systems.
  • Climate extremes such as floods and droughts and other significant variations in hydrologic patterns that may necessitate changes or additions to flood control and public infrastructure to provide adequate public safety and performance.
  • Changes in frequency and strength of tropical storms that will require changes in coastal protection systems.
  • Changes in ocean levels that will require adaptation of coastal infrastructure, including ports.
  • Changes in permafrost conditions that require retrofitting existing foundations and alterations to foundation design.
  • Changes in critical estuary inflows adversely affecting wetlands and habitat.

Such impacts could require modified agricultural practices and measures to deal with rising sea levels, water supply and quality, threats to critical infrastructure facilities and the potential for the outbreak of disease.

Civil engineers are responsible for the planning, design, construction, operations and maintenance of physical infrastructures, including buildings, communication facilities, energy generation and distribution facilities, industrial facilities, transportation networks, water resources facilities and urban water systems. These physical infrastructures have long service lives (50 to 100 years) and are expected to remain functional, durable and safe during that time. These facilities are exposed to and are vulnerable to the effects of extreme climate and weather events. Engineering practices and standards associated with these facilities must be revised and enhanced to address climate change to ensure they continue to provide acceptably low risks of failures in functionality, durability and safety over their service lives.

ASCE Policy Statement 360
First Approved in 1990

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