Assessing the robustness of adaptation decisions to climate change uncertainties: A case study on water resources management in the East of England

Suraje Dessai, Mike Hulme

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Projections of future climate change are plagued with uncertainties, causing difficulties for planners taking decisions on adaptation measures. This paper presents an assessment framework that allows the identification of adaptation strategies that are robust (i.e. insensitive) to climate change uncertainties. The framework is applied to a case study of water resources management in the East of England, more specifically to the Anglian Water Services’ 25 year Water Resource Plan (WRP). The paper presents a local sensitivity analysis (a ‘one-at-a-time’ experiment) of the various elements of the modelling framework (e.g., emissions of greenhouse gases, climate sensitivity and global climate models) in order to determine whether or not a decision to adapt to climate change is sensitive to uncertainty in those elements.

Water resources are found to be sensitive to uncertainties in regional climate response (from general circulation models and dynamical downscaling), in climate sensitivity and in climate impacts. Aerosol forcing and greenhouse gas emissions uncertainties are also important, whereas uncertainties from ocean mixing and the carbon cycle are not. Despite these large uncertainties, Anglian Water Services’ WRP remains robust to the climate change uncertainties sampled because of the adaptation options being considered (e.g. extension of water treatment works), because the climate model used for their planning (HadCM3) predicts drier conditions than other models, and because ‘one-at-a-time’ experiments do not sample the combination of different extremes in the uncertainty range of parameters. This research raises the question of how much certainty is required in climate change projections to justify investment in adaptation measures, and whether such certainty can be delivered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-72
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007

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