Key Concepts

Climate-Resilient Infrastructure

What is climate-resilient infrastructure?

Infrastructure Pathways characterizes climate-resilient infrastructure in the following way [1]:

The climate resilience of infrastructure, including:

  • Infrastructure that is planned, implemented and managed in a way that prepares for and adapts to changing climate conditions (process-oriented)[2]
  • Infrastructure that can withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions to continue to provide essential services and functions (outcomes-oriented)[2]

Figure 7 Lifelines, 2019 [3]

The climate resilience through infrastructure (i.e. co-benefits), including:

  • Infrastructure that maximizes social benefits, enhances equity and minimizes negative social consequences to support broader societal resilience to climate change, particularly for those who are most vulnerable and will suffer the greatest impacts of climate change (outcomes-oriented)
  • Infrastructure that minimizes negative environmental impacts and contributions to climate change (outcomes-oriented)
  • Infrastructure that protects and leverages natural ecosystems (process- and outcomes-oriented)

Figure 7 (page 10), shown here [4] is a helpful way to visualize the multi-dimensional qualities of climate-resilient infrastructure, with consideration of the resilience of individual assets, services provided and infrastructure users.

Climate-resilient infrastructure integrates aspects of disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, climate risk management, sustainability and climate change mitigation in the following ways:

  • Disaster risk reduction: Delivering climate-resilient infrastructure requires use of traditional disaster risk reduction strategies including ‘systemic efforts to analyse and manage the causal factors of disasters, including through reduced exposure to hazards, lessened vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improved preparedness for adverse events’[5]; however, climate change introduces more complex dynamics and uncertainty to addressing geophysical risks. Strategies for reducing risk include avoidance (removing exposure to a hazard), mitigation (reducing the severity of the hazard imposed on infrastructure), and adaptation (reducing the vulnerability of the infrastructure to the hazard).
  • Climate change adaptation: A key aspect of climate-resilient infrastructure is the adaptation or long-term adjustment of existing or planned infrastructure assets to changing average climate conditions. Climate-resilient infrastructure includes both projects to adapt traditional infrastructure systems and assets to a changing climate and those that are specifically conceived to address climate change risks, such as coastal defence systems, in order to protect people, investments and economic activity[6]
  • Climate risk management: The term climate risk management refers to the integration of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Traditionally, risk is defined as the product of hazard, vulnerability and exposure (note: sometimes vulnerability is defined as the product of exposure and sensitivity). To assess climate risks, the additional concept of adaptive capacity is often introduced into the equation as a means of reducing vulnerability. Adaptive capacity is the ‘ability of systems, institutions, humans and other organisms to adjust to potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities or to respond to the consequences of hazards’[7] or for infrastructure specifically, ‘the degree to which the physical elements of a system can absorb, withstand or respond to climate change impacts without incurring damage’[8]

Climate risk = (Climate hazard x Vulnerability) – Adaptive Capacity[9]

  • Sustainability: Sustainable infrastructure refers to a broad range of considerations related to the economic and financial, social, environmental and institutional sustainability of a project over its full lifecycle[10]. Climate-resilient infrastructure relates to sustainability in that infrastructure that can reliably and efficiently withstand expected and unexpected climate shocks and stresses over its useful life with minimal damage and without failure will be inherently sustainable. Furthermore, the co-benefits that climate-resilient infrastructure aims to achieve broadly contribute to social, environmental and other sustainability objectives. When approached holistically in infrastructure development, climate-resilience and sustainability are intrinsically compatible because they both aim to identify optimal solutions that provide maximum benefit across a range of systemic considerations. They may appear at odds in specific situations in which a decision to enhance the physical robustness or redundancy of an asset, for example, leads to greater material use; however, a holistic approach taken from either a sustainability or climate-resilience perspective should lead to comparable solutions.
  • Climate change mitigation: Oftentimes climate change mitigation is included within the broad category of climate resilience. It is also often discussed as a key component of sustainable and green solutions. Climate-resilient infrastructure, while focused on climate adaptation, must also aim as a key objective to minimize its environmental impacts, including carbon emissions and its contribution to climate change.

Infrastructure can be broadly grouped into three overlapping categories[11] all of which are considered within the scope of Infrastructure Pathways . Together these components form a people-oriented, systemic view of infrastructure with climate resilience requiring adaptation and transformation of all three components[9].

  1. Economic infrastructure: ‘projects that generate economic growth an enable society to function’ such as transport infrastructure, utilities, waste management, telecommunications and flood defense systems.
  2. Social infrastructure: ‘assets to support the provision of public services’ such as social housing, health facilities, educational infrastructure and public spaces such as parks. Both economic and social infrastructure should be viewed as means for providing goods and services, not ends in themselves[9].
  3. Soft infrastructure: ‘the public institutions required to maintain society’ including central government buildings, laws, rules and systems as well as the people, inputs and outputs involved in the development of infrastructure.

What is climate-resilient infrastructure resilient towards?

Climate-resilient infrastructure must be resilient toward all types of climate and non-climate risks, including both chronic stresses and extreme shocks. A multi-hazard perspective to addressing risk is an essential component to a systemic, resilience-based approach. Infrastructure Pathways focuses specifically on climate hazards, which are particularly challenging due to their dynamic nature, the level of uncertainty associated with them over time, and the complex system in which they operate. However, the guidance provided in Infrastructure Pathways is applicable in some cases to non-climate hazards such as earthquakes and non-climate risks such as global pandemics.

Climate hazards include the following, each of which can manifest as a chronic stress or extreme shock on infrastructure and human systems depending upon its magnitude and frequency, the probability of which will change over time. For this reason, it is essential to consider both current hazards and future hazards anticipated over the operational life of infrastructure.

  • Temperature: heat and cold
  • Water: drought and flooding (coastal, riverine, urban)
  • Extreme events: wildfires, windstorms, snowstorms, landslides and coastal erosion

Trends towards more extreme stresses (e.g. hotter temperatures), more extreme fluctuations of stresses (e.g. greater variation in rainfall between wet and dry seasons), more extreme magnitudes of shocks (e.g. more extreme hurricane events) and more frequent shocks (e.g. more frequent hurricane events) must also be assessed.

In addition to minimizing the direct impacts of climate hazards, climate-resilient infrastructure must also be responsive to the indirect impacts of climate change such as transition risks, supply chain disruptions and other cascading effects, workforce and lifestyle changes, and climate change-induced population movements.

Lifecycle Phases

Developing climate-resilient infrastructure requires resilience thinking and resilience-building decisions and actions by practitioners across the infrastructure lifecycle. At each stage, there are opportunities to enhance the resilience value (see box) of an infrastructure project and to ensure that the resilience value that was built into the project in earlier stages is retained. There is also a risk at each stage of eroding resilience value when resilience considerations are not communicated or actions across different phases are not coordinated. These trends across the infrastructure lifecycle are called value chains. See this video for more information on resilience value chains.

What is Resilience Value?

The Resilience Shift defines the critical functions of infrastructure as the ability to sustain societal needs through protecting, connecting and/or providing essential services.
Ensuring that these are delivered and maintained in ordinary as well as extraordinary circumstances is Resilience Value[12]

By organising and explaining existing guidance, tools and standards (or resources) around the infrastructure lifecycle and linking differentiated actions to specific practitioners with a shared systemic vision, Infrastructure Pathways aims to foster collective impact in building and/or enhancing the resilience value of infrastructure projects and systems. The following nine phases (and four macro-phases) represent the complete lifecycle of an infrastructure asset or system and form the structure for Infrastructure Pathways[13]. While the specific order of the phases may vary from project to project and is often iterative, the actions and decisions taken in each phase and the practitioners associated with each phase are consistent:

Needs Identification

Climate risks and development needs are identified, and associated strategies and actions are prioritised. The enabling environment for climate-resilient infrastructure is established.


Conceptual approaches to delivering a prioritised project are studied from technical, legal, economic and operational perspectives and a delivery plan, including funding and financing, is developed.


Design services are procured to develop the technical details for construction and operation. Construction services are procured, and the asset is built for operation.


The asset operates with periodic inspection, maintenance and/or renewal until it reaches the end of its operational life.

Building Climate Resilience Across the Infrastructure Lifecycle

1. Policies and Plans: In this phase, policies and regulations are adopted that align with shared, systemic resilience goals based on an informed understanding of climate-related and other risks. Climate adaptation and resilience strategies are developed and coordinated across geographies, levels of government, and sectors. Together, these set a positive enabling environment for later phases of climate-resilient infrastructure development.

2. Prioritisation: Governments and other infrastructure owners and developers then prioritise specific infrastructure projects for further development, based on funding and finance availability and political will, and in the face of uncertainty, with the objective of advancing projects that most effectively support long-term climate adaptation and resilience objectives.

3. Feasibility and Preparation: Different delivery strategies for achieving a prioritised project’s scope and objectives, including resilience, are explored in this phase from technical, legal and economic perspectives. In this phase, key decisions related to resilience value are made in setting design and operational performance requirements, siting, program and delivery strategy.

4. Funding and Financing: In this phase, a plan for covering the capital and operational costs of climate-resilient infrastructure projects is developed through suitable funding and financing mechanisms, with public and/or private capital. It presents an opportunity to incentivise and/or compel the consideration of climate resilience in project development and requires a shift in the industry to facilitate this by considering not only the additional short-term costs of resilience approaches but also the longer-term benefits, including risk reduction.

5. Design: The conceptual project idea is developed into a full plan for implementation in the design phase, including the technical details required for safe, high-quality, reliable construction and operation. It requires translating climate resilience performance objectives into specific measures and procedures applied to the asset or system, while also ensuring the integration of flexibility and adaptability to address the inherent uncertainty of climate change.

6. Procurement: In this phase, the land, materials, services and/or equipment to deliver an infrastructure project are procured. Integrating climate resilience into the procurement phase requires broadening the typical scope of procurement to consider the wider system and longer timescales in which climate change occurs. It also involves addressing climate risks through procurement including the use of procurement mechanisms, requirements and evaluation criteria that can help facilitate resilience goals.

7. Construction: During construction, contractors translate the technical and contractual documents into a physical asset. The contractor is responsible for the supply and quality of construction materials, means and methods, sequence, schedule and overall quality control. Care must be taken to ensure that resilience value is not eroded during this phase due to cost limitations or changes resulting from construction means and methods.

8. Operations and Maintenance: In this phase, infrastructure owners and operators, including governments, have an opportunity to incorporate climate resilience into the use of infrastructure, through rethinking traditional approaches to inspections, maintenance, day-to-day operations and emergency response to tackle climate change impacts. There are opportunities to influence the resilience of both infrastructure that was originally designed with resilience in mind and infrastructure that was not, including retrofit strategies to enhance resilience.

9. End-of-Life: At the end of an infrastructure asset’s useful life or when it has become obsolete or redundant, owners and operators have opportunities to maximize the utility of its materials, components and equipment as well as the land it occupies. While these actions do not enhance the resilience of the infrastructure itself, they support broader societal well-being and resilience.

Resilience and Systems Thinking

Infrastructure operates within socio-ecological systems, complex adaptive systems comprised of a network of components interacting in dynamic and often unpredictable ways when faced with disturbances such as the impacts of climate change. The resilience of a complex adaptive system can be characterized by two components: 1) robustness to shocks and stresses and 2) the capacity to learn and adapt (adaptive capacity)[14] and in some cases to re-organize and permanently transform[15]. This video from the Stockholm Resilience Centre provides a clear explanation of key characteristics of resilience within a complex adaptive system. Because infrastructure operates within and influences a complex adaptive system and is similarly subjected to the dynamic impacts of climate change, it is useful to think about infrastructure resilience from this perspective. For this reason, systems thinking concepts are important to the development of climate-resilient infrastructure.

Systems thinking as applied to infrastructure includes the consideration of dependencies and interdependencies across different systems, spatial scales, and time scales. Understanding these complex interactions supports both the climate resilience of infrastructure and the climate resilience that can be achieved through infrastructure (see Climate-Resilient Infrastructure).

  • The built environment system interacts with social and ecological systems, through which critical functions and services are delivered. Social systems include not only the end users of infrastructure services and those otherwise impacted by it, but also the practitioners who deliver and operate infrastructure and those who govern and regulate it (see Figure 1, page 7)[16] as well as the practitioner definitions here. The City Resilience Framework is a helpful example to illustrate the sub-components of these systems that drive resilience.
  • Within the built environment system itself, relationships and interdependencies across different types of infrastructure systems and sectors must be considered. Within and across these distinct infrastructure systems, all spatial scales need to be evaluated, from a single asset and its siting to a network of interconnected assets across a region.
  • Different time scales must then be applied over these system and spatial scale considerations. Attention to time scale is a particularly important component of systems thinking with respect to climate change as current conditions are no longer a predictor of future conditions. Timescale considerations also include the phases of infrastructure planning, delivery and operation, ensuring that decisions made in one phase of the infrastructure lifecycle are coordinated with those made in other phases (see the concept of resilience value chains described in Lifecycle Phases).

While it is not possible to reduce resilience thinking to a checklist, it is helpful to understand key qualities that comprise resilient systems and to aim to introduce these qualities in both the process of climate-resilient infrastructure development and/or in the outcomes it aims to achieve. These qualities include reflectiveness, resourcefulness, robustness, redundancy, flexibility, inclusiveness and integration and are defined in this document.

Cross-Cutting Theme Definitions

Resilience thinking concepts are featured within the content of Infrastructure Pathways, with the following icons used to highlight these ‘golden threads’ across the phases of the infrastructure lifecycle:

Resilience process:

Systems thinking – systems thinking is fundamental to identifying and addressing the complexity associated with infrastructure systems operating in a changing climate.

Inclusive engagement – fostering broad and inclusive engagement in idea generation and decision-making across the infrastructure lifecycle supports the identification of more appropriate and sustainable solutions and facilitates a broader array of positive outcomes and co-benefits to maximize the value of infrastructure investment.

Evidence-based decision-making – collecting, sharing and using data to make informed choices supports rational and defensible decisions related to the planning and operation of infrastructure.

Future-oriented planning – the prolonged lifespan of infrastructure in the context of a rapidly changing climate necessitates a future-oriented approach to planning, considering not only the conditions and context of today but also those expected over the coming decades.

Reflection and iteration – because complex adaptive systems do not always respond in a predicable way to various inputs and disturbances, it is essential to continually monitor and evaluate progress and use this input to learn and iteratively adapt strategies and processes.

Resilience outcomes:

Service continuity and reliability – the most basic objective of climate-resilient infrastructure is to provide reliable delivery of services to users who depend on them. This objective relates to the physical resilience of infrastructure as well as the resilience of its operational systems.

Environmental co-benefits – climate-resilient infrastructure supports resilience through infrastructure, by minimizing negative environmental degradation, water and energy use, and carbon emissions and by maximizing positive impacts, including promoting nature-based solutions and improving environmental health.

Equity and social co-benefits – climate-resilient infrastructure also supports resilience through infrastructure by seeking to increase social cohesion, equity, and well-being.

Capacity building – one specific social co-benefit that climate-resilient infrastructure aims to achieve is capacity building, or the improvement of individual skills and abilities and organizational or community processes and resources[17]


1. World Bank Group. 2021. Resilience Rating System : A Methodology for Building and Tracking Resilience to Climate Change. World Bank, Washington, DC. World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO

2. OECD, 2018. Climate-resilient Infrastructure, Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

3. Hallegatte, Stephane; Rentschler, Jun; Rozenberg, Julie. 2019. Lifelines : The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity. Sustainable Infrastructure;. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.

4. Hallegatte, Stephane; Rentschler, Jun; Rozenberg, Julie. 2019. Lifelines : The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity. Sustainable Infrastructure;. Washington, DC: World Bank. World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.

5. UNISDR 2009. Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction.

6. Asian Development Bank, 2021. A System-Wide Approach for Infrastructure Resilience: Technical Note.

7. The World Bank Group, 2021 (Online) Available at: Last Accessed: 25/10/2021.

8. US Aid, 2017. Overarching Guide for Incorporating Climate Change Adaptation in Infrastructure Planning and Design.

9. United Nations Development Programme (2011). Paving the Way for Climate-Resilient Infrastructure: Guidance for Practitioners and Planners. New York, New York: United Nations Development Programme.

10. Inter American Development Bank & IDB Invest, 2018. What is Sustainable Infrastructure? A Framework to Guide Sustainability Across the Project Cycle.


12. The Resilience Shift, N.d. (Online) Understanding Resilience Value Available at: Last Accessed: 23/10/2020.

13. Carluccio, S., Mian, J., Andrews, L., Pritchard, O., 2021. A Review of the Landscape of Guidance, Tools and Standards for Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure.

14. The Resilience Shift, 2017. Learning for Resilience and Complex Systems Thinking Agenda Setting Scoping Studies Summary Report. Available at:

15. Martin-Breen, P. Anderies, JM. (2011) 'Resilience: A Literature Review' Bellagio Initiative, Brighton:IDS

16. The Resilience Shift, 2017. Resilient Foundation Through Systems Thinking Agenda Setting Scoping Studies Summary Report Available at:

17. United Nations, (no date) Capacity-Building. Available at: Last Accessed: 25/10/2021.