Give climate adaptation remit to Ofgem and other regulators, UK Government urged

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC)  and Climate Change Committee (CCC) have written jointly to the UK Government, requesting urgent policy interventions to make British infrastructure more resilient to climate change.

Give climate adaptation remit to Ofgem and other regulators, UK Government urged

Pictured: The River Skirfare near Litton, Yorkshire, in drought conditions

The bodies have today (27 April) sent a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden and Environment Secretary Therese Coffey, reiterating their previous findings around a lack of credible policymaking for ensuring that Britain’s infrastructure can cope with more frequent extreme weather events and changing weather patterns linked to climate change.

This summer, the Government is expecting to set out its next National Adaptation Programme. The NIC and CCC are calling for the updated Programme to translate top-level goals into delivery plans, and want to see it including clear, time-bound goals with measurable outcomes.

Last month, the CCC concluded that the current Programme fails to match the pace of the changing climate.  Of the 45 adaptation outcomes examined by the CCC, only five have the required policy milestones in place to deliver them.

CCC staff subsequently published a briefing paper on adaptation, providing recommendations for better policymaking in terms of both internal work at the Government, and collaboration between the Government and the private sector.

Beyond updating the top-line commitments in the Programme and fleshing out plans for delivery, the NIC and CCC’s joint letter calls for an alignment with climate-resilience-related policymaking and other regulatory cycles.

The organisations have stated: “Between now and 2029, there will be new price controls for electricity, gas, twice for water and a new control period for Network Rail.Adaptation and resilience policy needs to be aligned with these regulatory cycles.

“Most critically, if new outcome-based resilience standards are not developed until 2030, every single one of those cycles will be missed and the window of opportunity for investment to meet those standards will be pushed back until the 2030s.”

The CCC has stated that up to £10bn of investment each year will be needed for climate adaptation in the UK. Most of the heavy lifting will need to be done by the private sector.

Regulator responsibilities

Assessments by the NIC and CCC have concluded that, in the main, water infrastructure in the UK is better-prepared for climate-related impacts than many other kinds of infrastructure. The letter argues that this may be, in part, due to the fact that water regulator Ofwat has an essential duty relating to resilience.

It states the case for similar duties to be given to Ofgem, Ofcom and the Office of Rail and Road. It also states the case for a net-zero duty for Ofgem. This was recommended in Chris Skidmore MP’s Net-Zero Review, but the Government has not taken it on board – partly due to opposition from Energy Efficiency and Green Finance Minister Lord Callanan.

Additionally, the letter recommends changes to team infrastructure within the Government to insire that there is Cabinet-level oversight on climate-resilient infrastructure. While some Ministers and Secretaries of State oversee resilience in specific sectors, both the NIC and CCC have expressed concern about a lack of understanding around how impacts can “cascade”. For example, Storm Arwen in November 2021 caused power outages, which disrupted water supplies.

The letter, signed by NIC chair Sir John Armitt and CCC adaptation committee chair Baroness Brown, states: “Record breaking storms and temperatures in 2022 brought widespread disruption to energy and transport networks, with substantial impacts for people living and working across the UK. As the climate continues to change, these impacts are likely to intensify. We urge you to develop more effective plans to improve the resilience of infrastructure, which is so critical to the UK’s economic prosperity.”

Related news: UK’s key infrastructure can be delivered more rapidly while also improving sustainability, NIC says

Comments (2)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    But these essential, indeed vital, industries are under private ownership, are they not??
    Control over their activities is not directly under HMG.
    And politicians are not hydraulic engineers.
    Things do not bode well for rapid technical advance, especially when it is likely to impinge upon profits.
    Sorry, but there it is!

  2. David Dundas says:

    The National Infrastructure Commission has advised me that they are not presently supporting the roll out of a hydrogen refueling structure for the UK and only concentrating on EV charging points when these are already placing a strain on the National Grid to support them. The EU plans to have a hydrogen refuelling station on all the major roads in Europe no further apart than 140kms (about 80 miles) by 2030. The Government hydrogen strategy report of august 2021 predicts that around 30% of our primary energy will be delivered as hydrogen which will be mainly used for heavy transport. Considering that our present electricity supply is only about 18% of our primary energy demand, there is a massive hole in the Government’s hydrogen strategy.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie