The UK has been urged to step up preparations for the impacts of climate change, as a report by an independent government adviser warns that little action has taken place.
“The UK must start acting now to prepare for climate change. If we wait, it will be too late. It is not necessarily about spending more, but about spending smart and investing to save,” said John Krebs, chairman of the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC), which is part of the Climate Change Committee tasked with assessing the UK’s response to climate change.
ASC today published its first national assessment of the UK’s readiness for climate change impacts such as the increased likelihood of floods, heatwaves and droughts at home, and threats to the international supply chains that the country relies upon to import food and fuel.
If the UK starts planning now, it could also benefit from economic opportunities, the report adds, with longer growing seasons making it easier to grow crops such as apricots, walnuts and grapes for champagne and wine.
“The UK is committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, but must also accept that some climate change is inevitable and already happening,” said the UK’s environment secretary Caroline Spelman, speaking at the report launch at the House of Commons.
However, Neil Bentley, director for business environment at the CBI – a UK employers’ association – said: “We welcome the minister’s commitment to address the serious risks posed to the British economy by a changed climate, but this must translate into real action. This means getting the information on climate risk out into the hands of those that need to make their businesses resilient.”
Earlier this week, the CBI called for the government to set up a public information bank, making available environment and weather data showing the risks to critical infrastructure.
Friends of the Earth's policy and campaigns director Craig Bennett said: “It is essential that the coalition takes urgent steps to protect us from [climate change’s] impacts, while pulling out all the stops to prevent more extreme temperature rises.”
The effects of global warming elsewhere in the world will lead to some of the largest adjustments the UK will have to make, according to the ASC report. Around half of the food and two thirds of the fuel consumed in the UK is imported, using “considerable” amounts of water and energy, the report notes, predicting that “water stress abroad would reduce the resilience of these supply chains”.
“Global food prices could substantially increase in response to yield reductions in the main cereal-exporting regions of the world which could have implications for the UK,” the report says, noting that Russia’s 2010 heatwave cut grain output by a third and led to a ban on grain exports, pushing up global wheat prices by 70%.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, ASC identified five priority areas for action:
- Land-use planning: Avoiding building homes on flood plains, maximising use of green space in cities to help surface water drainage and cope with rising temperatures;
- Infrastructure: Designing power stations, roads, railways, water treatment works and flood barriers to ensure they can cope with rising temperatures and are resilient to storms, floods and droughts – and changing patterns of consumer demand;
- Buildings: Designing and renovating homes so they can cope with changing weather;
- Natural resources: Using water more efficiently, setting up ecological networks and habitat bridges, making space for water along rivers and coasts; and
- Emergency planning: Preparing emergency services to cope better with natural disasters.
Based on self-assessments carried out last year, under the previous Labour government, the report says that in some key central government departments capacity on climate adaptation is often limited to small teams.
This is “unlikely to be sufficient to ensure that climate change is fully embedded in all adaptation relevant policies”, it says, giving the example of the Treasury – which will need to ensure spending decisions take current and future climate risks into consideration – and the Department of Health – which will face significant risks to public health and well-being from extreme weather events.
“Decisions with long-lasting consequences should not close off options and make it harder to adapt in the future,” the report warns.
By. Jess McCabe