‘Severe dereliction of duty’: MPs call on UK Government to improve climate resilience of infrastructure
In having no ministers responsible for planning to make key transport, energy and communications infrastructure more climate-resilience, the UK is leaving itself exposed, MPs are warning.
The warning comes from the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, which has this week released a damning new report following its inquiry on climate adaptation for critical national infrastructure (CNI). CNI includes electricity and gas distribution networks, roads, public transport networks and communications infrastructure.
The report begins by stating that “there is overwhelming evidence” that the physical impacts of the climate crisis are already being felt in the UK. CNI, it states, is already being impacted, with more frequent disruption for rail operators being recorded in recent years due to flash flooding, wind and heatwaves. It also outlines how storms and heatwaves, in the past 24 months, have also contributed to power cuts.
As it progresses, the report highlights previous findings from the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) adaptation committee. A 2021 report from the committee forecasts warmer, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters for the UK over the coming decades, contributing to higher damage bills. The report classified some 60% of risks as the highest level of urgency, up from 36% at its last assessment in 2016. Whether the temperature increase is capped at, or exceeds 2C, the UK is unprepared in terms of its infrastructure and policy, the CCC warned. .
All in all, the new report paints a bleak picture and provides urgent calls to action. It argues that Britain’s lack of preparation for increasing physical climate risk is, in itself, a risk to national security. It states that there is an “extreme weakness” in that the UK has no minister or ministers, department or departments, with responsibility for ensuring that CNI is climate-resilience. This, the Joint Committee States, is a “severe dereliction of duty”.
Michael Ellis MP did not attend the Joint Committee’s inquiry as he stated that he has a “lack of command” on the issue. The Joint Committee has stated that this was “shocking”.
“Climate risks have previously been categorised as Tier 1 national security risks, but a grave lack of ministerial responsibility and accountability has left a gaping hole at the centre of government on this pressing future risk to UK CNI,” the report reads.
The UK Government did publish an updated adaptation report ahead of COP26 last November. However, the CCC has stated that it is not adequately funded and has called for more to be done to embed good adaptation practices in all other related plans and policies. The Joint Committee agrees, based on the evidence it has heard.
“This Government must finally recognise that prevention is better than cure and move on from their dangerously reactive approach to risk management,” said the Joint Committee chair Dame Margaret Beckett.
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