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Climate change uncertainty: building flexibility into water and flood risk infrastructure


  • Berry Gersonius


  • Richard Ashley
  • Assela Pathirana
  • Chris Zevenbergen


Infrastructure for water, urban drainage and flood protection has a typical lifetime of 30–200 years and its continuing performance is very sensitive to climate change. Investment decisions for such systems are frequently based on state-of-the-art impact assessments using a specified climate change scenario in order to identify a singular optimal adaptive strategy. In a non-stationary world, however, it is risky and/or uneconomic to plan for just one climate change scenario as an average or best estimate, as is done with the use of the Predict-Then-Adapt method. We argue that responsible adaptation requires an alternative method that effectively allows for the lack of knowledge about future climate change by adopting a managed/adaptive strategy. The managed/adaptive strategy confers the ability, derived from built-in flexibility, to adjust to future uncertainties as they unfold. This will restrict the effect of erroneous decisions and help avoid maladaptation. Real In Options (RIO) analysis can facilitate the development of an optimal managed/adaptive strategy to climate change. Here, we show the economic benefits of adopting a managed/adaptive strategy and building in flexibility, using RIO analysis applied for the first time to urban drainage infrastructure. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2013

Suggested Citation

  • Berry Gersonius & Richard Ashley & Assela Pathirana & Chris Zevenbergen, 2013. "Climate change uncertainty: building flexibility into water and flood risk infrastructure," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 116(2), pages 411-423, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:116:y:2013:i:2:p:411-423
    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-012-0494-5

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Black, Fischer & Scholes, Myron S, 1973. "The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 637-654, May-June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Matthew Sturm & Michael A. Goldstein & Henry Huntington & Thomas A. Douglas, 2017. "Using an option pricing approach to evaluate strategic decisions in a rapidly changing climate: Black–Scholes and climate change," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 140(3), pages 437-449, February.
    2. Dobes Leo & Jotzo Frank & Stern David I., 2014. "The Economics of Global Climate Change: A Historical Literature Review," Review of Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 65(3), pages 281-320, December.
    3. Paul Watkiss & Alistair Hunt & William Blyth & Jillian Dyszynski, 2015. "The use of new economic decision support tools for adaptation assessment: A review of methods and applications, towards guidance on applicability," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 132(3), pages 401-416, October.
    4. Sierra C. Woodruff, 2016. "Planning for an unknowable future: uncertainty in climate change adaptation planning," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 139(3), pages 445-459, December.
    5. Thomas D. Pol & Ekko C. Ierland & Silke Gabbert, 2017. "Economic analysis of adaptive strategies for flood risk management under climate change," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 22(2), pages 267-285, February.
    6. Iglesias, Ana & Garrote, Luis, 2015. "Adaptation strategies for agricultural water management under climate change in Europe," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 155(C), pages 113-124.
    7. Julie Shortridge & Seth Guikema & Ben Zaitchik, 2017. "Robust decision making in data scarce contexts: addressing data and model limitations for infrastructure planning under transient climate change," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 140(2), pages 323-337, January.
    8. Dittrich, Ruth & Wreford, Anita & Moran, Dominic, 2016. "A survey of decision-making approaches for climate change adaptation: Are robust methods the way forward?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 79-89.

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