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Organisational uptake of scientific information about climate change by infrastructure managers: the case of adaptation of the French railway company


Future development and renewal of transport infrastructures have to take into account how the effects of climate change will affect these complex sociotechnical systems. This article aims at understanding how to raise this issue to ensure an efficient and systemic uptake of climate change by infrastructure managers. It reports the results of an in-depth case study conducted on the French railway company. This study identifies several adaptation dynamics: one is top-down and stems from climate change impacts; others are more bottom-up and focused on vulnerabilities. However, both types of approaches have, so far, yielded limited results. Building on the existing literature, this paper reveals critical bottlenecks to overcome in order to get the organization ready to adapt. It suggests key components of an enabling framework for a more proactive preparation to climate change and mainstreaming climate adaptation into major organisational decisions.

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  1. 1.

    Mc Kinsey Global Institute estimates global infrastructures needs between $2.5 (current expenses) and 3.3 trillion per year—40% in developed countries.

  2. 2.

    Starting with people who previously demonstrated an interest in addressing climate change issues within the organization and were involved in previous work related to this topic. Interviews with weather data users inside business or technical unit most sensitive to weather and climate conditions complemented those discussions.

  3. 3.

    DGITM (transport and infrastructures department), DGEC (energy and climate department)

  4. 4.

    This described process is in many ways similar to what has been observed in other European countries (AEE 2014)

  5. 5.

    The letter of appointment sent by the Ministry of the Environment to Jean Jouzel in July 2010, requested as an in-depth synthesis on climate scenarios to consider in order to implement the National climate adaptation plan.

  6. 6.

    On the basis on modelling work of two climate-science teams from CNRM-Meteo France (Aladin-climat model) and from IPSL (WRF model).

  7. 7.

    General insights have to be provided publically for free (while more tailored information might be sold as a ‘climate service’), the public sector playing a role of knowledge-broker through its public policies (giving an official mission to scientists and broadcasting the results through official channels, being an intermediary between information needs and information supply

  8. 8.

    Cf. requests to scientists in the PNACC, deliverable 1, p91

  9. 9.

    Entrepreneur from the inside of a large organization

  10. 10.

    Rail buckling during heatwaves, fires because of droughts, flash-floods in the south of France, landslide because of heavy rain (Stamos et al. 2015). Old infrastructure and equipment are particularly vulnerable to this type of events.

  11. 11.

    Similarly to the UK (NetworkRails 2017), understanding the impact of weather events on the railway comes a long way. There was attempts to perform economic estimations of those impacts, for instance on the cost of maintenance (Gaudry and Quinet. 2014), but this aspect has not been fully addressed yet.

  12. 12.

    This is a national department offering engineering services to business units of the group but also conducting autonomous researches.

  13. 13.

    That is, to evaluate their ability to deal with unusual and suboptimal situation.

  14. 14.

    The Tomorrow’s Railway and Climate Change Adaption (TRACCA) program led to the formulation of 5 objectives ‘for a railway that is safe and more resilient to the effects of weather, now and in the future’. These objectives are (1) infrastructure which is able to withstand the impact of future weather conditions, (2) rapid recovery from the impacts of adverse and extreme events, (3) improve performance and safety during adverse and extreme weather conditions, (4) leverage financial savings through reduced compensation payments and repair costs, and (5) enhance reputation and trust in the railway’s ability to manage weather events’.(NetworkRails 2017).


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This research was funded by the French National Energy and Environment Agency (ADEME), the Institute for Climate Economics (I4CE) and SNCF. The author is especially grateful to Christian Dubost, Bernard Torrin, Antoine Rothey and Sophie Jalabert (SNCF) for their valuable support to access the relevant people and material for the case study within the company. We thank Jean-Paul Vanderlinden, Tommaso Venturini, Benoit Leguet, Alexia Leseur, Igor Shichlov, Mariana Deheza, Bruno Lafitte and the anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback.

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Correspondence to Vivian Dépoues.

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Dépoues, V. Organisational uptake of scientific information about climate change by infrastructure managers: the case of adaptation of the French railway company. Climatic Change 143, 473–486 (2017).

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