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UK struggling to keep pace with climate change impacts, says CCC
Action to improve the nation’s resilience is failing to keep pace with the impacts of a warming planet and increasing climate risks facing the UK. That is the conclusion of a comprehensive independent assessment led by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), which considered a catalogue of risks and opportunities affecting every aspect of life in the UK.
The UK is experiencing widespread changes in the climate; average land temperature has risen by around 1.2°C from pre-industrial levels, UK sea levels have risen by 16 cm since 1900 and episodes of extreme heat are becoming more frequent. Since the CCC’s last assessment five years ago, over 570,000 new homes have been built that are not resilient to future high temperatures and since 2018 over 4,000 heat-related deaths have been recorded in England.
According to the CCC, people, nature, and infrastructure are already vulnerable to a range of climate impacts today and these will only increase in the coming years as the climate continues to change. The longer action to address these risks is delayed, the higher the costs the government and the UK public will face. Leadership from the UK government and governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland must result in increasing efforts to adapt to climate change to ensure that societal, economic, and environmental goals remain achievable in the face of climate change.
UK-wide, nearly 60% of the risks and opportunities assessed in the 1,500-page report have been given the highest urgency score. The CCC identifies eight priority risk areas which need immediate attention, at the latest in the next two years:
- Risks to the viability and diversity of terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species from multiple hazards.
- Risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought.
- Risks to natural carbon stores and sequestration from multiple hazards, leading to increased emissions.
- Risks to crops, livestock and commercial trees from multiple climate hazards.
- Risks to supply of food, goods and vital services due to climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks.
- Risks to people and the economy from climate-related failure of the power system.
- Risks to human health, wellbeing and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings.
- Multiple risks to the UK from climate change impacts overseas.
There are strong benefits from taking effective adaptation action, says the CCC. The assessment identifies a range of steps that will have benefits in the next five years if implemented on a wide scale, such as building design and retrofit, habitat creation and improved access to information on climate impacts. Importantly, while the changing climate also creates some opportunities for the UK, these do not offset the risks and also require early action to realise.
‘The government has an important role,’ says the CCC. ‘It must deliver a much better action plan to support good adaptation planning across the UK and integrate this into all relevant government plans and policies. The government has to date not heeded the CCC’s advice on the importance of this plan or on funding it adequately. This needs to change.’
Amongst its findings, the report highlights the need for a 10-fold increase in hydrogen and the increased use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) if the UK is to reach its climate goals.
It also notes that, even with an expansion of wind and solar, other energy sources will still be needed to reach net zero.
OGUK Sustainability Director Mike Tholen comments: ‘We strongly agree with the Committee’s recommendation that hydrogen and carbon capture must be ramped up and that we’ll need every tool in the box to reach net zero. The North Sea Transition Deal, between industry and government, sets out a clear plan that will develop these technologies, cut our emissions, and produce homegrown cleaner energy here in the UK. There are projects already underway across the UK which need support. This will safeguard UK jobs, create exciting energy careers of the future and support an economic recovery which moves us towards our climate goals.’
David Clark, CEO, Vysus Group (previously Lloyd’s Register Energy), adds: ‘The CCC has laid its cards on the table; less talk and more action is needed if the UK is to succeed in achieving the ambitious net zero targets… Following decades of oil discovery and exploration, the UK has developed world leading credentials and technological capabilities to deliver effective net zero solutions, however these innovations will only be successful with a fiscal model in place across many countries. True carbon pricing will ultimately be the key behaviour change driver and project enabler.’
He continues; ‘The scale of infrastructure build, particularly in the electrification of offshore platforms, will have to move quickly and at scale. This means the UK tripling generation and distribution capacity in the next 10–15 years, no mean feat. Therefore, this will need a shift in mindset when it comes to the planning and approvals processes in place across many areas.’
‘This latest report has marked 60% of actions as urgent and/or high priority. Effective risk management and planning can help bring clarity to these critical areas. It however shouldn’t be forgotten that we already have the technology and skills to make real progress today, while continuing to develop and commercialise newer solutions for future generations. It is going to come down to companies like us, in our industry, using existing technology and insight to provide practical and usable solutions that can be implemented in the short-term, that will help to take the next step on that route.’