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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Systems thinking for climate adaptation – A multi-benefit analysis of Mexico City’s water infrastructure

The failure of traditional risk management approaches in the face of low probability-high-impact threats has led to a paradigm shift in resilience infrastructure decision-making from risk-management to resilience. In this new paradigm, engineering resilience policy has centred on critical infrastructure (CI) systems planning. Increasingly, there is a recognition that CI are systems-of-systems that interconnect social, technical, economic, and ecological networks.

A critical analysis has been undertaken to understand resilience frameworks and their use of systems thinking features. It is evident from analysis that in spite of f the continuous shift towards transformative and adaptive systems, resilience frameworks provide the opportunity for assessing and prioritising interventions that recognize complexity, especially across the socio-technical domain and the social impacts that infrastructure prevision can bring.

This work proposes that resilience planning could use system-of-systems or sustainability frameworks to further increase resilience assessment boundaries. An analysis of sustainability or systems-thinking frameworks and theory was carried out to assess to what extent are resilience and sustainability competing concepts in infrastructure decision-making. The findings show that even when resilience frameworks are moving towards recognising more socio-technical interactions and sustainability frameworks embed systems thinking, there is a lack of consideration of social sustainability in resilience frameworks and resilience concepts in sustainability frameworks. Perhaps, a reason for these gaps is that decision-makers are influenced by two objectives or definitions of CI systems. The first objective is to reach SDG targets, and the second, to secure service levels. When analysed, it is evident that these definitions are intertwined, and their differences are difficult to point out. However, the reality is that in academic papers, there is still an area of opportunity to incorporate both objectives into a more holistic assessment.

As a result, this work uses the Infrastructure for Sustainable Development framework by Thacker et al., (2019) to use the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as another assessment of resilience that allows to plan for multiple benefits across objectives. Finally, bringing the conceptual work to a regional context, the work uses case study analysis of Mexico City water infrastructure for evidence of resilience-oriented policy in light of the SDG.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.