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Climate change blog – understanding the DfT’s transport adaptation strategy

In this month’s Climate Change blog, ADEPT Policy Officer Ed Shortridge, responds to questions on the Department for Transport’s (DfT) transport adaptation strategy as it relates to the impacts of climate change. The ADEPT response to the consultation can be found here.

Can you share an overview of DfT's transport adaptation strategy and the background to it?

In essence, the transport adaptation strategy sets out a pathway for the government to realise their vision of a well-adapted transport network that is flexible, reliable, operates safely and is responsive to a changing climate.

It includes actions and policies to enhance climate adaptation planning across the sector and ensure these plans are achieved. The aim is that this will ultimately lead to improved climate resilience in the transport system.

The strategy policies will be developed over the next five years to enable progress ahead of the fourth National Adaptation Programme, bringing together actions to address the risks and opportunities arising from climate change.

What is the overall impression of the DfT's transport adaptation strategy?

ADEPT supports the publication of the transport adaptation strategy by the DfT and the actions it outlines. It’s a starting point for implementing measures that will enhance the transport network’s resilience to climate change, which we can all agree is essential work.

However, the strategy lacks specific details on how these measures will be put into practice which is disappointing. It is also unclear how the additional responsibilities assigned to Transport Infrastructure Operators (TIO), including Local Authorities (LAs), will be funded and resourced. 

For many LAs the day-to-day upkeep of transport infrastructure assets is already challenging and costly. Adapting them to withstand the impacts of climate change will require greater clarity and consistent investment to achieve a sustainable result that is fit for purpose.

Are there aspects of the strategy with strong potential to be effective in addressing climate adaptation planning and action across the sector?

Yes, and many of these aspects will revolve around monitoring and reporting.

At present, climate adaptation reporting remains largely voluntary, and LAs are not currently required to report on their climate adaptation efforts. However, proposed actions within the strategy will introduce a requirement for LAs to report on climate adaptation regularly and consistently for the first time. This will enhance LA accountability in assessing climate risks and help ensure climate risks are assessed consistently.

Whether this new requirement yields successful results and outcomes depends heavily on support received by LAs during the monitoring process.

The DfT’s transport adaptation strategy also imposes new requirements on all Transport Infrastructure Operators (TIOs), including LAs. These requirements relate to monitoring, the appointment of a Senior Responsible Officer, and the integration of climate adaptation into organisational objectives. While this is a positive step, it may result in limited benefits if LAs lack the capacity to effectively monitor and assess climate risks.

It also identifies new tools and guidance to facilitate the consideration of climate risk. These resources will be particularly valuable for LAs, aiding in the consistent assessment of climate risk within business cases and investment decisions. 

Again, to provide any benefit, it is crucial that LAs have the capability to use these tools with access to the right funding, staff and skillsets.

How well do you think the transport adaptation strategy aligns with the current needs and challenges faced and are there areas that it has overlooked or inadequately addressed?

The strategy acknowledges the urgent need for the transport sector to adapt to climate change and recognises the varied starting points of LAs in considering these risks. It also includes actions that seek to get all TIOs on the same page with regards to monitoring, reporting and assessing climate risks.

However, the strategy lacks content on how individual actions will be implemented. It will be crucial for the government to provide further clarity on how these actions can be realised and, mostly importantly, funded. This information will enable LAs to fully assess whether proposals will deliver the desired outcomes.

One of the primary challenges faced by LAs on a day-to-day basis are increased instances of flooding. The transport adaptation strategy does not do enough to provide practical solutions to address the short-term challenges faced by local highway authorities with regards to flooding. Although actions related to collaboration and knowledge-sharing may provide solutions over time, prioritising these immediate issues now is essential.

The transport adaptation strategy is largely silent on funding that will be provided to LAs to help implement the actions outlined. To successfully deliver the aims, LAs must be provided within the necessary resources to implement measures that mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on the sector.

Are there examples of any successful transport adaptation measures that you believe should have been included in the transport adaptation strategy?

The transport adaptation strategy features several case studies where climate change adaptability has been considered. But again, the document lacks specific details on the types of measures that LAs could implement to enhance adaptability.

Instead, it outlines a strategy for how adaptability to climate risks should be considered further. 

How do you think the transport adaptation strategy will have an impact in the short and long-term?

If successfully implemented, the transport adaptation strategy is likely to have a positive long-term impact on the transport network’s adaptability to climate change. 

More consistent monitoring of risks and the incorporation of climate adaptability into investment decisions will result in better planning and solutions.

With regards to short-term impacts, the strategy falls short in addressing the immediate challenges faced by LAs in relation to extreme weather events that are increasing in frequency and impact. This is a huge area of concern and further information is needed rapidly.

Do you have any concerns about the feasibility or implementation of the measures proposed in the transport adaptation strategy? 

The transport adaptation strategy places a number of new requirements and action on LAs. For example, new monitoring requirements, the appointment of a Senior Responsible Officer and incorporating climate adaptability into organisations objectives. It also proposes a new set of tools and process to assess climate risks.

None of the new requirements deal with the fact that LAs already have significant budgetary and resourcing constraints, which will make it difficult to improve reporting and to implement the consideration of climate risks without additional funding.

Additional resources must be made available by the government to support LAs, as part of this ongoing work.

As noted in the Climate Change & Green Growth policy position paper ADEPT supports new duties for councils to lead climate mitigation and adaptation efforts locally. 

Reporting on progress across all services and responsibilities is crucial, provided that councils receive the necessary powers and funding.

ADEPT also recommends the following actions to potentially enhance the effectiveness of the transport adaptation strategy.

  • Cross-Sector Collaboration: Climate adaptability cannot occur in isolation; it requires cross-sector collaboration. Considering interdependencies with other stakeholders is equally important.
  • Alignment with Local Transport Plans: The transport adaptation strategy should align with emerging guidance for Local Transport Plans.

Further information

Author

  • Ed Shortridge, ADEPT Policy Officer

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