Adapting to climate change requires a flexible approach to planning and climate risks. Our Thames Estuary 2100 project (TE2100) pioneered this approach in developing a flood risk management plan to the end of the century.
Tidal flood risk is increasing in the Thames estuary. This is due to:
- climate change and sea level rise;
- current flood defences ageing;
- more people living and working in the defended floodplain.
The TE2100 project has given us a better understanding than ever before of the estuary and the defences, and of how climate change and sea level rise will increase flood risk.
Making a flexible plan
The challenge was to plan for the uncertainties that still remain over the impacts of climate change, and to keep options flexible.
The plan recommends flood risk management actions based upon the latest climate change predictions. It recommends what actions Environment Agency and others will need to take:
- in the short term (next 25 years);
- medium term (the following 15 years);
- long term (to the end of the century).
The plan also indicates how those actions would need to change, and when, if sea levels rise faster or more slowly than predicted.
The science behind the plan
To make the plan adaptable to any changes in climate change projections over the century, we tested and modelled different flood management options against a range of climate change scenarios.
This allowed those involved in the project to understand:
- how effective those options would be against current projections;
- how effective those options would be if projections were to worsen.
The climate change science used in the plan was commissioned by our TE2100 project and undertaken by the Met Office. This science also forms a significant part of the marine section of the UK Climate Projections 2009, which can be viewed from the UK Climate Impacts Programme website.
Putting the plan into action
The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has approved the TE2100 Plan. The Environment Agency is now looking at the most cost-effective way to implement the plan's recommendations, starting with the first 10 years.
We cannot manage future flood risk alone, and will work with partners and communities to find the best way to meet future demands for flood risk management.
Tim Reeder, our Regional Climate Change Programme Manager, says: ‘This is the first plan of its kind and we are leading the way nationally and internationally. Taking this flexible approach means that we can adapt as the uncertainty behind climate change unravels – ensuring we stay a step ahead of rising water levels, while avoiding potentially costly investment in what may prove to be unnecessary or quickly redundant infrastructure.
‘The TE2100 Plan allows spatial and flood management planners to prepare for an uncertain future and to understand what we may have to safeguard now to be able to adapt in the future.’
Who was involved
- Met Office Hadley Centre
- Environment Agency
- Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory
- Centre for Ecology & Hydrology