Climate Change and Greenhouse Gases
Safeguarding the Thames
Scientific evidence suggests, with high confidence, that climate change is happening now and that it is the result of greenhouse gas emissions caused dominantly by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels.
Climate change can affect the operation of the Port of London Authority in various ways, including increased risk of flooding due to the rise of sea level, increased navigational and operational risk due to more frequent extreme weather, higher demand of cool outdoor spaces due to the hotter summer, and change or loss of habitat.
As home to the UK’s largest port, at the PLA we have looked closely at how we can drive forward awareness and action on climate change adaptation, resilience, and mitigation so that the Thames is able to remain as a hub for trade, travel, sport, culture, people and nature.
Taking actions to prepare for and adjust natural systems or human behaviour in response to current or predicted climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. At the PLA, we have investigated at how we will have to adapt to the impacts from the changing climate.
Reducing and eliminating the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to avoid further human interference to the climate system. The PLA has been identifying the opportunities and challenges of transitioning from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy as well as enhancing the natural carbon sinks.
The ability of the community, business, or natural environment to respond to, and recover from a disruption or harm caused by the changing climate. The PLA has been improving the climate resilience of the river by assessing climate related risks and taking steps to better cope with these risks.
Climate Change Adaptation & Resilience
We voluntarily produced three Adaptation Reporting Power (ARP) reports since 2011 in response to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) under the Climate Change Act (2008).
In the latest submission in 2021, we have reviewed the climate risks on our operations based on the latest UK Climate Projection by the Met Office and revised the current actions by the PLA to adapt to and mitigate climate change. We have developed and are implementing various actions to adapt and minimise the risks associated with climate change on the river and in our own operation; stakeholders are contributing too.
It is important to ensure the river and its community have the capacity to withstand and be able to respond to the consequences of climate change. The PLA had set the Thames Resilience Panel in 2016 to undertake the process of risk assessments and share experiences on lessons learned, good practice and challenges ahead for those working on, over or adjacent to the River Thames. The panel is responsible directly to the London Resilience Forum but also feed into the Kent and Essex Resilience Forum.
The increasingly frequent extreme weather events can cause disruption to the river traffic and affect its physical condition. Strong wind, flooding or the operation of flood defences, or drought can shorten the window of safe navigation and operations while extreme heat, excess runoff, and increased chance of bankside erosion can affect the water quality, and hence the ecosystems that relies on it.
Likely to have less favourable conditions for leisure activities due to more frequent extreme weather. A notification system has been created by the Port of London Authority to inform users about the conditions of the flow. The more intense rainfall will increase the risk of flooding. The EA has established the TE2100 Plan to manage the tidal flood risk in the Thames Estuary to 2100.
Drought and Low Flow
London can expect an increase in frequency and severity of long term droughts, which can directly lower the river water level and flow. Indirectly, additional water abstraction to maintain the supply of drinking water during drought period could affect the river flow. The PLA has been working closely with water companies on their water management plans to minimise the potential disruption to the river.
Hotter weather will not only increase the risk of heat exhaustion for all river users and wildlife, but it can also exacerbate air and water quality. The warmer water temperature can also affect the local ecology. PLA has been working on emission reduction and with partners to improve water quality.
Extreme weather conditions can cause disruption to the pilot operations due to pilotage station closure and staff logistics. At the PLA, an immersive simulator is designed to continuously train and assess pilots. We have also been recruiting trainee pilots to support trade growth and be resilient.
The PLA shares our climate risks analysis and action plan, available to our stakeholders, to drive forward awareness and action on climate change. It is one of the PLA’s aspirations to improve continuously the climate resilience of the river through leading by example.
Climate Change Mitigation
With stakeholders, we are working to mitigate (reduce) emissions that contribute to climate change. Mitigation measures include improve the efficiency of energy utilisation, adopting renewable energy and low/zero emissions technologies, and biodiversity enhancement.
Greenhouse Gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide) trap heat in the atmosphere. Human activities, such as burning of fossil fuels, have changed the GHG atmospheric concentrations and have caused most of the current changes to climate. The degree of future warming can be limited by eliminating and reducing the emissions of GHG.
Changes in behaviour of businesses or individuals can result in large reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. For example, following best practice to maximise energy efficiency, using public transport, including river transport, choose service providers with green credentials, and reduce waste by reuse and recycling.
Development and adoption of new technology is needed to achieve the Net Zero goal. The PLA is investigating and in preparation for the adoption of alternative fuels, renewable energy, and autonomous ship operations through researches and trials. Climate resilience is needed to be built in when delivering these new zero carbon infrastructure.
The level of carbon dioxide can be reduced by the uptake and storage of carbon in vegetation, soils, sediments, and ocean. The PLA has been restoring the saltmarshes in Thurrock, seeking opportunities for biodiversity improvement across all PLA’s sites, and sponsoring RSPB to undertake habitat restoration and improvement in Essex and Kent.
To meet the UK commitment to reach Net Zero emissions by 2050, the PLA has developed a Net Zero Programme to reduce the organisation’s carbon emissions and appraise the way the Port of London can facilitate and support the UK, regional and local economy reaching Net Zero through the development of the Thames Vision 2050.
Reports and publications
PLA reports and publications relevant to climate change and greenhouse gases.
Infographic to sets out the impacts of climate change on the tidal Thames, the port, and how we are adapting to it and what we can do to improve things for the future.