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Clients’ climate change plans ‘too short term’

A top government climate expert slated key clients this week for their short term attitude to climate change planning.

Committee on Climate Change Adaptation Sub-committee chairman Lord John Krebs said water companies, Crossrail and Transport for London (TfL) tend to plan no further forward than 20 to 30 years, when they should be looking 50 to 100 years ahead.

“That is to me utterly shocking,” he said.

A good balance would be to have a detailed 30-year adaptation plan and a broader plan for up to 100 years, he said. “As long as they’re looking further into the future than 30 years.”

Krebs said there was a lack of clarity about what some infrastructure operators were doing on adaptation.

“To be quite honest I’m confused at the moment,” he said, referring to Crossrail’s approach. “He said this could be due to the current lack of knowledge about how climate change will affect infrastructure.

“We haven’t yet got a good analysis of the risks and their impact,” Krebs said. “It’s very tricky for infrastructure builders to design for uncertainty.”

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’s (Defra’s) climate change risk analysis, due to be published in January 2012 will provide a basis for infrastructure operators to further develop their adaptation plans, he said.

Crossrail has given conflicting reports on its adaptation plans. Head of procurement Martin Rowack told the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee that Crossrail’s infrastructure was future-proofed to “about 20 years”, Krebs said.

However, a Crossrail spokesman said flood modelling had been undertaken “looking as far ahead as 2100”, and mechanical and electrical systems will be replaced after 30 years with “an opportunity to specify higher temperature tolerance”.

Water companies in England and Wales produced 25-year forward plans in 2009, as ordered by regulator Ofwat. Short-termism is a recognised problem in the water sector, and is being looked at by Defra in its ongoing review of Ofwat.

TfL has said it is working with the Greater London Authority to develop adaptation plans but was unable to give details of the timescale to which it was working.

Many companies − including 20 water companies, 10 energy generating companies, 10 airport operators and TfL − are currently producing reports on predicted risks and adaptation proposals, as will be required by the Climate Change Act and will come into force by the end of 2011.

However, companies are free to decide what timescale they will work to.

Krebs said that given the uncertaintly about future climate change, infrastructure operators must produce plans that ensure there is capacity for a variety of future adaptation needs without precluding any modifications to the plan.

“The key thing is to have enough flexibility, so that we’re not committed [to any one adaptation method],” he said.

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