UK must prepare for ‘inevitable changes’ of climate risks, warns advisers

The UK must work to implement immediate action to mitigate the "urgent" effects of climate change which looks set stifle food production, reduce water supplies and lead to thousands of deaths as temperatures rise, a new report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has warned.

The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 report has identified 60 risks and opportunities that will alter living standards in the UK, with global impacts such as war-fuelled migration also adding to the complexity. The report notes that even with the “significant step forward” of the Paris Agreement, a 2C temperature rise would likely lead to climate-related consequences that the UK is ill-prepared to deal with.

“The impacts of climate change are becoming ever clearer, both in the United Kingdom and around the world,” the CCC’s Adaption Sub-Committee’s chairman Lord Krebs said. “We must take action now to prepare for the further, inevitable changes we can expect.

“Our independent assessment today, supported by the work of hundreds of scientists and other experts, identifies the most urgent climate change risks and opportunities which need to be addressed. Delaying or failing to take appropriate steps will increase the costs and risks for all UK nations arising from the changing climate.”

Damage limitation

The headline scenarios, which would occur if the UK fails to introduce significant action plans, could see demand for water exceed availability by more than 150% by 2050, as the UK struggles to cope with a water scarcity crisis fuelled by extreme clean water shortages and a larger population.

Other worst case scenarios include annual heatwaves that could reach 48C in London and high-30s across the nation, which would triple the number of annual heat-related deaths among the elderly to 7,000 by 2050.

While the report notes that longer growing seasons could boost the farming industry, food supplies will be altered globally. With the UK importing 40% of its food, the CCC has urged the Government to implement action plans to improve soil quality and fertility and improve peat field protection, both of which have been badly damaged by “decades” of intensive farming.

The report – produced over three years by 80 experts – notes that failing to implement the legally-binding 2C pathway established at COP21 could see the UK fail to combat flooding issues, an aspect the nation is already struggling to subdue.  As a whole, temperature rise in the UK is expected to exceed 2C, leading to a 30% decrease in river flow during “dry” periods compared to a 5-20% increase during “wet” periods.

Business opportunity

According to the report, there may be some positive effects taking place in the UK as a result of climate change. Milder winters look set to reduce the cost of heating and number of winter deaths, while the report noted that climate change could boosts productivity in a private sector that has the “relevant expertise” to produced adaptive goods and services.

“Economic opportunities for UK businesses may arise from an increase in demand for adaptation related goods and services,” the report notes. “The UK has relevant expertise in architecture and construction, finance and investment, business risk management, and water and environmental conservation. UK tourism and outdoor activity may also increase. Businesses can be expected to respond to market signals and develop new products and services in these areas.”

While the CCC is aware of the high-profile risks, the report notes that the danger posed by pest migration and new diseases – including the Zika virus – would require “urgent research”. Climate-related migration and civil unrest is also likely to create consequences for the UK, with interrupted trade deals and necessary military intervention the most likely disruptions.

Government effects

The report also noted that the recent vote in favour of leaving the European Union (EU) hasn’t changed the overall risk assessments, but that the “magnitude of climate change risk and opportunities” could be affected if legislation and funding from the EU is cast aside or altered. Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has already moved to calm these fears, claiming that the UK will not “turn its back” on the global battle to mitigate climate change.

With the 5th Carbon Budget now in place, the UK Government will use the CCC report and present it to Parliament in early 2017 in order to develop an adaptation plan. However, spending budgets for both DECC and Defra have been cut during recent Spending Reviews.

Reacting to the publication of the report, Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho said: “Today’s report from the CCC shows that climate change will increasingly have disruptive impacts on the UK’s infrastructure, businesses and the state of its natural environment. In addition to developing a clear plan to cut its emissions of greenhouse gases to meet its climate targets, the government must strengthen its existing National Adaptation Programme to improve the state of its natural environment, ensure that its infrastructure is as resilient to extreme weather events as possible and build greater awareness in businesses and local authorities of the likely impacts of climate change in the years to come”.

Matt Mace

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