Managed adaptive approaches to planning can outperform traditional methods in the context of climate change. Managed adaptive flood risk planning, unlike traditional ‘predict then adapt’ approaches, anticipates the fact that as learning about the climate takes place, future Flood Risk Management (FRM) planners will have more detailed information on flood risks than current planners.

This project uses international case studies to illustrate how adaptive approaches can be implemented in practical settings. 

It therefore places a positive value on affording future FRM planners flexibility to adapt appropriately to the superior information on risks that they will have at their disposal.

In Scotland, high-level guidance strongly endorses managed adaptive planning. The guidance states that flood risk management planning should be forward looking, acknowledge that future climate change risk is uncertain, promote managed adaptive planning as a means for dealing with this uncertainty, and endorse the use of real options analysis for appraising climate-sensitive investments. 

However, of 42 flood risk management schemes approved for the current planning cycle, 25 schemes are designed to provide a fixed standard of protection, of which 11 include an allowance for the future. None of the schemes incorporate adaptive plans or make reference to multiple climate change scenarios. Scottish case studies examined by this study nonetheless show that adaptive planning is both feasible and valuable, across a variety of relevant contexts.

We identified the following barriers to adaptive management:
  • The lack of an adaptive mindset among all stakeholders, including practitioners and the general public. 
  • The lack of a standardised methodology to generate adaptive plans. 
  • The lack of a standardised methodology for economic appraisal of adaptive plans. 
  • Funding mechanisms can disincentivise managed adaptive planning and promote large scale interventions. 
  • Planning boundaries.

To address some of these barriers, this report makes recommendations to extend SEPA guidance on adaptive planning. The recommendations set out more prescriptive guidance on how adaptive planning should be implemented, assisting FRM planners in overcoming methodological hurdles and ensuring a greater degree of consistency between responsible authorities.

Recommendations include:
  • Local FRM planners specify within their objectives (i) to manage flood risk at the catchment level, and (ii) to manage uncertain risks, noting that uncertainty on the climate and local exposure/vulnerability is expected to unfold over time. These aspects of the objectives should be made explicit in invitations to tender for flood studies.
  • Where an adaptive approach is to be followed, candidate plans are constructed following four steps: (i) plans are built up from a set of schemes, including NFM options, that individually provide a range of standards of protection; (ii) schemes are screened using a multi-criteria approach that accounts for the benefits of flexibility; (iii) trigger points are identified under a set of climate or development scenarios, in which schemes cease to provide an acceptable level of protection; (iv) candidate plans are developed as sequences of contingent interventions, which can be triggered by future assessments of flood risk, designed to provide acceptable levels of protection over the whole planning horizon.
  • Plans are appraised using a net present value criterion based on real options analysis, which accounts for the likelihood of different climate or development scenarios.
  • Plans are implemented and updated using risk models held by responsible authorities.

*Please note there was a typo in original report download. Under the introduction on p6 it stated ‘sea levels have risen by 1cm since the 1920s’. This should be 10cm. This has been updated on the PDF*