Science & Environment

Defra's UK climate-proofing plans unveiled

Train goes past sea front in Scotland (PA)
Image caption Climate change could affect several aspects of UK infrastructure

Roads built to the same standards as the scorching south of France; fish moved from the overheated Lake District to cooler waters in Scotland; lighthouses threatened by rising seas.

From measures in use already to seemingly far-fetched scenarios for the future, these are some of the findings in the first batch of climate adaptation plans submitted to the environment ministry Defra.

Under the Climate Change Act, 91 major organisations responsible for key aspects of national infrastructure have to explain how they will cope if the climate alters as forecast.

The latest projections suggest the potential for major change - for example that it is "very likely" that southern England will on average be 2.2-6.8C warmer by the 2080s.

That range of possible warming reveals the huge uncertainties inherent in climate forecasting. Nevertheless the aim of the studies is to ensure that long-term planning takes account of the possible risks.

Rocky road

Many of the ideas for adaptation have been aired before but this is the first time they have been brought together in a formal set of strategies.

In its plan, the Highways Agency recognises the risk of roads deteriorating more rapidly in higher temperatures and more frequent extreme weather.

One solution, adopted in 2008, is to copy the specifications for road foundations used in southern France.

Image caption Most lighthouses are not at threat, but sea level rise is a concern

The Environment Agency warns that rising temperatures will be stressful for wildlife - with fish at the greatest risk.

It raises the radical option of relocating some fish species from the Lake District to habitats further north where the waters will be cooler.

The Trinity House Lighthouse Authority - which runs 68 lighthouses on the English and Welsh coasts - reckons the majority of its installations will face no impact.

But it details four lighthouses that would be threatened by sea-level rise unless action is taken, with a further nine whose landing docks may be at risk in future.

Trinity House estimates that five lighthouses may suffer from the erosion of the cliffs they stand on - but points out that this process may have nothing to do with climate change.

Waves on the track

Network Rail raises concerns about keeping passengers cool in heatwaves, ensuring that rail lines do not buckle in high temperatures and preventing embankments collapsing as a result of flooding.

One of its most vulnerable stretches of track is on the south Devon coast between Dawlish and Teignmouth where storms have often seen waves break over the line.

Network Rail says the sea level at this point has risen 30cm since 1840 and is projected to rise by a further 70cm by 2050 and 1.45m by 2100. The risk of the track being 'overtopped' is predicted to increase by 50% by 2020 and to treble by 2080.

It has already invested £8.5m in the past 10 years in fortifying the sea defences and establishing an early warning system to watch for rockfalls from the cliffs.

Network Rail believes it is "ahead of the game" by planning for future changes but warns that any adaptation will need to be dove-tailed with flood protection schemes for neighbouring Teignmouth and Dawlish.

National Grid has submitted two reports - for gas and electricity. On gas, it warns that pipes could become exposed through subsidence or erosion and it is working to replace old metal pipes with ones made of polyethylene.

On electricity, it identifies 13 substations - unnamed - that are vulnerable to a one-in-a-century flood - a relatively high risk for such important assets.

The 2007 floods had provided a wake-up for the industry when a vital substation at Walham in Gloucester - serving tens of thousands of households - was almost overwhelmed.

Later this year, power companies, water utilities, harbour authorities and others will submit their plans, leading ultimately to a national adaptation strategy.

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