Exploratory approaches to question the implications of climate change for critical infrastructure and services: example of the French Railway System

18:00 Tuesday 28 May




Vivian Depoues (France) 1

1 - I4CE - Institute for Climate Economics

This talk will present the result of a three years original ’embedded’ research within SNCF, the French national railway company. This project – conducted with the Institute for Climate Economics (I4CE) and the French environment and energy agency (ADEME) – has intended to improve our understanding of how large organizations deals with scientific knowledge on climate change. Rooted in science and technology studies (STS) it defends that a particular form of co-produced and reflexive social inquiry may be very relevant to elucidate the challenges associated with the consequences of climate change for major economic actors and can help to put flesh on the bones of adaptation. In this presentation, we will show why adaptation-oriented initiatives first need to support exploratory thinking among decision-makers. Moving from a technical incremental optimization process, the issue at stake is to consider transformational options in a context of deep uncertainty and high volatility.

We propose to amplify these points through a concrete case we conducted with local SNCF executives to unfold the implications of future problematic summers in the south of France. Through an experimental workshop, we have tested an exploratory approach to question the implications of an increased weather variability and unprecedented extreme events. The process shifted the focus on complementary adaptation challenges from daily management practices (e.g. on vegetation management, maintenance planning), to corporate policies (e.g. train cancellation policies) and strategic choices (e.g. long-term investments). It revealed fundamental governance questions that go far beyond SNCF scope and raise actual political concerns.

Many research initiatives have contributed to develop material to support adaptation, including economics decision-making tools. However, our experience reveals a relatively poor use of this material by economic decision-makers. According to us, the issue for adaptation-promoters today is to support the emergence of actual debates about societal choices regarding critical services (such as mobility) and associated trade-off in terms of risks and responsibilities distribution. In order to do so, we need renewed skills, attitudes and narratives. Interdisciplinary partnerships involving economics (as a science for governance), climate scientists (to present plausible ‘tales of future weather’) and practitioners are necessary to tackle that challenge.