Transport for London (TfL) has released its Climate Change Adaptation Plan, explaining its approach to managing climate risk.
- TfL has unveiled its plans to become more resilient against climate risks.
- Extreme weather caused by climate change is already affecting London, making its transport network particularly vulnerable to physical damage as well as lost revenue.
- Considering that TfL wants 80% of trips to be made via walking, cycling or public transport by 2041, ensuring its resilience against extreme weather events is of paramount importance.
Building on the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and TfL’s Corporate Environment Plan published in 2021, the transport network has released its Climate Change Adaptation Plan. From 2023, it will be a mandatory requirement for TfL to report on Taskforce for Financial-related Climate Disclosures, highlighting its financial risks and opportunities in relation to physical climate hazards such as heatwaves.
Why does TfL need an adaptation plan?
Extreme weather caused by climate change is already affecting London, making its transport network particularly vulnerable to physical damage as well as lost revenue.
For example, disruption amid the 2022 heatwave meant that five million fewer passengers used public transport, causing £8 million of lost revenue. The UK reached temperatures of over 40°C in July and August, leading to some services being cancelled, temporary speed restrictions, asset failures and trackside fires, leading to delays and cancellations across the network.
A year before, another extreme weather event hit the city. Severe rainfall on 12 and 25 July 2021 caused significant flooding, resulting in the full or partial closure of 30 stations across the TfL network. The closures and delays to the London Underground network caused by the 12 July flood event alone resulted in approximately 197,128 lost customer hours, equating to a financial loss of almost £2 million. And it is not just the UK: flooding following severe rainfall in July 2021 caused over 200 deaths across Europe and $46 billion worth of damage.
London is particularly vulnerable to flooding: in the UK, sea levels have risen 16.5 centimetres since 1990 and will rise by a further 50-100 centimetres in the Thames Estuary by 2100. Some 1.4 million people live in flood plains in London, where homes worth £321 billion are located. TfL operates throughout London’s flood plains and relies on protection from the Thames Barrier and other tidal and river flooding defences.
What is TfL going to do?
The transport network used Met Office emissions scenarios to inform the plan and complete an assessment of the risks to people and assets in 2022, 2050 and 2080. It found 333 climate risks, mostly due to precipitation – both too much and too little rain – and high and low temperatures. Bridges and viaducts, drainage, rolling stock and signalling systems were some of its most at-risk assets.
The plan has three interlinked aims: to deliver an efficient and reliable transport network that provides an attractive alternative to car use, while adapting London to climate impacts; to protect staff, contractors, and customers; and to reduce the financial impact of climate change and make the most of any financial opportunities arising from it.
Among the various measures to implement, the TfL will increase funding for sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) and will add 5,000 square metres of catchment draining into highways SuDS every year. It is also looking to invest in digital technology to improve weather forecasting and communications with customers.
Although there are no specific targets for new installations yet, the network said that green infrastructure – parks, green spaces, gardens, woodlands, rivers, wetlands and urban greening features – is “crucial” to the plans, while it also improves air quality, supports biodiversity and contributes to the mental health of residents. Indeed, trees provide shade and cooling during hot weather and vegetation reduces the amount and speed of surface water run-off before it reaches drainage systems.
Future-proofing public transport
Considering that TfL is working towards 80% of trips made via walking, cycling or public transport by 2041, ensuring the resilience of the network against extreme weather events is of paramount importance. The national government, however, seems to be lagging behind.
At COP27, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to triple the UK’s funding on climate adaptation to £1.5 billion by 2025, but the Climate Change Committee said in February 2023 that the Government has not defined its priorities around this area. As such, the uncertainty is preventing progress in appraising the country’s investment needs and closing the adaptation gap.
With cities being particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, TfL is taking a significant step in advancing the city’s resilience. This cannot be done by one entity alone, however, and will require cross-sector collaboration to ensure the plan is implemented effectively.
“We now aim to accelerate our adaptation efforts by creating a comprehensive and holistic plan of action, and we are asking all parts of our business to think about ways to contribute to reducing our climate risks,” said Lilli Matson, chief safety, health and environment officer at TfL.
“Managing our interconnected systems to build a resilient transport network will require engagement Foreword Climate change is both a current and future threat to us all. It has already caused irreversible damage to our planet and way of life, and is one of the biggest challenges of our generation and collaboration with numerous agencies and authorities across London, both within and beyond the transport sector.”