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Businesses urged to adopt risk based approach to dealing with climate change

Owners and operators of infrastructure are being urged to adopt a risk-based approach to climate change adaptation in response to a new government report.

The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2012 report sets out the key risks to the UK economy from future climate change. It says many key buildings and infrastructure elements face a high risk of being flooded.

The document, produced by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), aims to provide businesses with information they can use to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

It identifies the main threats posed by climate change, ranking them has high, medium or low risk. It also sets out the period within which a risk event can be expected to happen.

The Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) report is based on climate change projections for three milestone periods — the 2020s the 2050s and 2080s.

The projections used in the report are acknowledged as being among the most accurate produced anywhere in the world. But Defra suggests organisations use the document as a guide to the possibility of a risk occurring, rather than using the figures as predictions.

Organisations should “consider adaptation actions that recognise the high degree of uncertainty and test adaptation actions against a wide range of future scenarios”, it says.

“It [the report] is very clear about where the significant areas of risk are, but there is a lot of work for organisations to know how to adapt, where to adapt and
where their critical thresholds are — and how resilient they are to climate threats and opportunities already,” said Halcrow associate hydrometeorologist Murray Dale.

Defra plans to publish a National Adaptation Programme in 2013. This will set out action required by central and local government, businesses and communities.

Already 91 organisations — including water and energy companies, the Highways Agency and Network Rail — have published details of how they are assessing climate change risks and acting on them.

Barriers to implementing climate change adaptation programmes identified by these organisations include uncertainty about climate change predictions, and existing funding arrangements, which do not provide mechanisms for paying for adaptation measures.”Many of the barriers are related to uncertainty,” said Dale. “Why should we do anything if we don’t know how much it’s going to affect us?”

He added that, rather than relying too much on the predicted timescales and projections in the CCRA, organisations should look at how resilient their infrastructure
or operations are now, and what degree of change — such as temperature increase or rise in water level — will cause that level of resilience to be reached.

“A fundamental thing for people to do when assessing how much risk they’re exposed to is to assess what critical impact thresholds exist in their organisations, and then look at the probability of future climate events exceeding those thresholds,” said Dale.

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