‘We are not ready at all’: Poor UK climate adaptation policy sparks national security concerns

The High Court has mandated a judicial review of the UK Government’s national climate adaptation plan.

During yesterday’s (14 May) parliamentary inquiry session held by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), representatives from the CCC, the Met Office, and the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) clearly stated to Members of Parliament that the effects of climate change are expected to intensify in the coming years, but the UK presently lacks the resilience to confront these impending impacts.

On the question of national preparedness to the impacts of climate change in the future, the CCC’s adaptation chair Baroness Brown stated that “we are not ready at all.”

She said: “As of yet, we don’t have a plan which could show what a well-adapted UK would look like and so we don’t know if we are going fast enough or in the right direction.”

Brown emphasised that in its latest set of recommendations to the Government, the CCC underscored the importance of addressing food security concerns in the Government’s adaptation strategy, encompassing both the quality of food and the vulnerability of agricultural production to climate impacts in the UK.

Additionally, she called for action to boost supply chain resilience, particularly considering the global impacts of climate change on regions where imported food is cultivated.

It bears noting that 83% of the fruit and 45% of the vegetables consumed each year in the UK are imported.

A study conducted last year by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) unveiled that around £8bn worth of food imported into the UK is currently exposed to climate-related risks, exacerbating concerns about the nation’s food security.

Brown also highlighted the escalating health risks associated with climate change, including an increase in heat-related fatalities and diseases, underscoring the imperative for communities, businesses and financial sectors to enhance their resilience measures.

She said: “While we are seeing more mentions of it [adaptation], it’s the implementation and action where we are absolutely lacking.”

UK’s national adaptation plan under pressure

Last month, the High Court mandated a judicial review of the UK Government’s national climate adaptation plan, in response to a legal challenge asserting that the plan falls short of protecting people, property and infrastructure from the impacts of climate change.

Brown said: “We believe the national adaptation plan falls way short of what it is needed. It does not provide a clear vision with goals and outcomes.”

She highlighted that the adaptation plan lacks governance and adequate metrics for gauging progress, and that it fails to outline the funding mechanisms and lacks a clear focus on cross-government collaboration, missing key components necessary for effective implementation.

The CCC’s head of adaptation Richard Millar added: “The weather conducive to wildfires will increase, particularly during the summers going forward.

“This is starting to rise as an agenda in the UK. While we are seeing more inclusion of climate adaptation, risks and security in planning policies, it’s fair to say that more needs to be done to actually deliver on them.”

“Until we get that, it’d difficult to say that we are making progress,” Brown added.

At the hearing, NIC’s commissioner Professor Jim Hall also raised concerns regarding rising sea levels in the UK.

He said: “At the coast, the issue [of adaptation] has more to do with smaller pieces of infrastructure, such as not-so-significantly used coastal railway lines or coastal towns which are protected by sea walls. These would be very costly to upgrade or replace.

“That’s the type of chronic threat we need to pay attention to on the coast.”

Recommendations to enhance climate adaptation

Brown noted deficiencies in supply chain reporting, particularly from large food companies, which she deemed as essential for developing an adaptation strategy.

She highlighted that while some reporting exists under the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), it often lacks comprehensive insights into physical risks.

For this, Brown proposed leveraging the Government’s Adaptation Reporting Power to mandate disclosure from companies, including extending this requirement to local governments for a more holistic view of supply chain resilience.

Additionally, she emphasised the need for more centralised coordination of adaptation efforts.

Brown said: “In my personal view, the adaptation strategy needs more central co-ordination and at the Cabinet Office would be a good place to put it.”

Furthermore, Hall stressed the importance of incorporating cost considerations into the adaptation strategy, particularly given the significant infrastructure expenditure expected between 2025 and 2030, which is estimated to reach £400bn.

Much of this infrastructure expenditure will be governed by regulatory settlements, making it essential to embed the adaptation strategy into these settlements to ensure that climate resilience considerations are integrated into infrastructure planning and investment decisions.

He highlighted that by establishing clear costing mechanisms, the Government can set realistic targets and monitor progress effectively.

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