Climate change adaptation and resilience: standards and their application

The world is already experiencing climate change impacts; the summer heat wave in the UK and flooding in Pakistan being recent examples.  While there is rightly a focus on mitigation and reaching net zero, there is also a need to focus on adaptation.  Adaptation is the process of adjusting in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. Society needs to adapt to be robust and resilient to the changes to come.

The three speakers approached the topic from their perspective:

  1. Research and academia.
  2. A recently produced adaptation standard.
  3. A large and diverse transport organisation, Transport for London (TfL).

Research and academia 

Swenja Surminski

Managing Director, Climate and Sustainability, Marsh McLennan Advantage, a member of the UK Committee Climate Change Committee’s Adaptation Committee, and Chair of the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative.

Swenja stated that adaptation was often overlooked.   Internationally, just 12% of funds are put into risk reduction and prevention (adaptation or resilience) before a disaster, while 88% of funds go into funding responses during and after an event, including repair and reconstruction.

This is not financially or morally sustainable and as a society we should do better.

An interesting, but challenging, element of adaptation, was that no one single player delivers an adaptation solution. From planning to constructing homes, properties or infrastructure, there are many opportunities for us to shape our future assets.    Managing risk and resilience makes a lot of business sense and it should be turned into a business paradigm, although for many businesses it is still early days.

Talking about adaptation through the context of communities, makes the subject less abstract.  For example, she highlighted a project focusing on the flood-prone coastal towns of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth in East Anglia.  Understanding the different drivers of resilience is important.  Lowestoft is heavily exposed to flooding from the sea and rivers, while rainfall is also an issue.  Do the residents, local authority and community leaders, understand where their gaps in resilience are?

The tendency is to focus on funding, with large expenditure on flood defences.  That, however, is only part of the solution as it deals with one form of flooding.  It does not deal with other types of flooding.  This approach may create a false sense of security.  A lot of work is being carried out to empower people to understand what their resilience needs are.

There is a need for a soft adaptation approach, as well as the traditional grey or green infrastructure approach.  We must consider how we manage and organise the knowledge we have, and how we organise production processes.  We need to know how society deals with risk. 

Relocation will sometimes be the only solution.  Not everywhere will be able to defend coastal areas.  In New Zealand some work has been carried out and the government is currently looking at funding opportunities.  They are, however, aware that some areas will have to be relocated away from the coast.  Likewise in the UK some work has been carried out and it is likely that this will be a similar, unwelcome, situation.

A recently produced adaptation standard 

Tim Reeder

Senior Climate Change Consultant, a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report, the UK Climate Projections 2009 (UKCP09) report and the second UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, and an advisor to the London Climate Change partnership.

The key message was to think big, together with the need to strive for a standardised approach to climate change adaptation and the use of adaptation pathways.

Adaption pathways have many attributes, and allow planning for multiple futures, e.g. where flooding could be 1m or 4m.

  • They provide flexible long-term responses to tackle uncertainty and show how adaptation options can be implemented over time.
  • They allow long-term visions and objectives to be incorporated into short-term decisions and encourage a wide range of possible actions.
  • They identify decisions that could limit future adaptation, avoid ‘lock-in’ and help interested parties to engage and achieve effective outcomes.

The Thames Estuary 2100 Plan (TE2100) highlighted the need to plan for multiple scenarios.  They were working with a ‘high++’ scenario of approximately two metres. However, to ensure they interrogated what the worst-case situation in 2100 could be, they considered up to four metres.  Then they looked at what the existing system could cope with.

Understanding the existing problem is crucial.  The existing system may be able to cope with a third of a metre, then it may be possible to bring in other actions or methods (such as over-rotating the Thames Barrier and raising defences) to get to a different level of defence.  All these options can be combined into different pathways.

It is very important to report progress with the adaptation pathways to stakeholders.  With the Thames Estuary 2100 Plan, they checked right through to the four-meter scenario.  This was conveyed to the then Mayor of London (Ken Livingstone).  When we could reassure him that we had done our research, he became one of our biggest advocates.

Standards (ISO and BSI) provide robust foundations to consider adaption. While BS 8631: Adaptation to climate change – using adaption pathways for decision makinggives us flexibility in an uncertain future.

Concluding, he added that it does not have to be a large, expensive project, like TE2100.  A lot can be done with a small project at a high level.  Using guestimates and expert opinion you can come up with a draft adaptation plane, which is a very useful way to engage stakeholders.

A large and diverse transport organisation, Transport for London (TfL)

Katherine Drayson

Strategy and Planning Manager, Transport for London’s City Planning Directorate

The impact of extreme weather events is putting TfL’s enviable track record of providing safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities to the capital, at risk.

Having been tasked with helping to embed a green infrastructure and climate change adaptation in TfL, she stated that the organisation was reviewing the data and trying to identify how much climate change was responsible for service disruption.

In the past 18 months there had been two major flood events in July that resulted in enormous disruption; three named storms during one week in February which caused widespread damage; and finally this year’s heatwave severely curtailed transport services over two days.  It was noted that if the dry weather continued, and we did not have a wet autumn and winter, it was anticipated that water use restrictions could also severely curtail TfL’s activities in 2023.

Engagement with Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) adaptation reporting power (ARP), has been a crucial, challenging, step. TfL, together with Network Rail, HS1, HS2, and the then Highways England, worked with DEFRA to create a template for their report, including a relatively consistent approach to completing the risk assessment spreadsheet.

With a climate risk assessment showing the risks for today, 2050 and 2080, TfL assessed the climate risks for both customers and staff.  They did not have the data to make this quantitatively evidence based.  They relied on the best professional judgement of their staff and their knowledge and expertise about their assets.  What is required however, is a combination of quantitative data and best professional judgement as there will be gaps in both.

Drainage stood out in the assessment as a crucial supporting asset.  If drainage, ours, and that of third parties, fails, other assets become more exposed to flooding.  This is a major problem for TfL as large parts of their drainage network are unmapped and their condition is unknown.  This is largely due to the fact that TfL was only created 22 years ago, and much of the drainage is underground and considerably older than this.  This risk has implications not just for TfL’s services, assets, and people, but potentially also for third parties.

The interdependencies run both ways.  If TfL fails because of a particular climate hazard, there will be knock on implications for London.  This could be emergency services being unable to reach people, or key workers being unable to reach their place of work.  TfL is also reliant on others.  The transport network does not exist in isolation, London roads obviously link with borough roads, our rail networks are very heavily linked with network rail.

Looking at TfL’s engineering standards is one action from the plan that TfL are very keen to commence.  There is much they would like to do and want to see if they can sensibly and cost-effectively embed climate change into them.

TfL Sustainability web page

Panel discussion (200)

Themes introduced by the speakers were further developed in a detailed panel discussion, featuring two more experts in the field of adaption:

  • Larissa Naylor (LN), Professor of Geomorphology and Environmental Geography at the University of Glasgow; and
  • John Dora (JD), Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at the University of Birmingham, Visiting Professor at the University of Surrey, and director of Climate Sense.
Questions included:

Is it fatalistic to focus on adaptation rather than mitigation? Does it undermine our efforts to prevent climate change if we focus on adapting to the effect?

LN summarised the event’s overarching message – we need to take action, now.   If we stopped emitting CO2 tomorrow, we are locked into sea level rise of at least 30cm.  So regardless of whether we reach net zero, or whether we reach it on the blue path or the red path, we must adapt.  We don’t have a choice.  Society has already made that decision.

JD stressed the need to make space for the road to move, adding that we are living in a dynamic landscape. It has always been dynamic and we need to learn to make our lives dynamic around it.

Watch the 'Climate change adaptation and resilience: standards and their application' video here

In addition to our in-person event in September, we have produced two pre-recorded webinars. Our first webinar in this series features Dr Christopher White speaking about ‘Climate Change and weather extremes: the case for adaptation’.

Watch the ‘Climate Change and weather extremes: the case for adaptation’ video here


In our second webinar, we join Professor John Dora for a presentation on ‘Adaptation to climate change’.

Watch the ‘Adaptation to climate change’ video here

Scroll to Top
Malcare WordPress Security