UK failing to protect against climate dangers, advisers warn
The UK government is failing to protect people from the fast-rising risks of the climate crisis, from deadly heatwaves to power blackouts, its official climate advisers have warned.
The climate change committee said action to improve the nation’s resilience is not keeping pace with the impacts of global heating, many of which are already causing harm. The CCC’s experts said they were frustrated by the “absolutely illogical” lack of sufficient action on adaptation, particularly as acting is up to 10 times more cost-effective than not doing so.
They said climate change was here now. In 2020’s heatwave, 2,500 people died in the UK, but the CCC said the government had not heeded their warnings for more than a decade that homes must be made easier to cool, such as by using shutters.
Cutting carbon emissions remained vital to avoid the worst climate impacts, the CCC said, but some were inevitable. It highlighted a series of risks that required action within two years at the latest. These included damage to woodlands and peatlands by high temperatures and drought that would prevent the UK meeting its goal of net zero emissions by 2050, because these areas would be unable to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
“Adaptation remains the Cinderella of climate change, still sitting in rags by the stove: under-resourced, underfunded and often ignored,” said Baroness Brown, the chair of the CCC’s adaptation committee. “Not only is it essential that we do adaptation, but it also provides economic benefit. So it’s absolutely illogical that we are not doing it.”
“Our particular frustration is that after the last climate-change risk assessment in 2016, the adaptation plan that was published was really inadequate,” she said. “It didn’t address many of the risks highlighted and it wasn’t in any way action focused. A detailed, effective action plan that prepares the UK for climate change is now essential and needed urgently.”
Chris Stark, the CCC’s chief executive, said there was a “wilful reluctance” of ministers to factor adaptation into their policies: “That’s because it’s hard, it doesn’t fit with the [five-year] political cycle and it doesn’t have the glamour of net zero attached to it. The government has got to get real about it.”
The CCC’s report is based on an independent 1,500-page analysis by 450 experts from 130 organisations that provides a comprehensive view of the climate-change risks faced by the UK.
“Alarmingly, this new evidence shows the gap between the level of risk we face and the level of adaptation under way has widened,” it said. “The UK has the capacity and the resources to respond effectively, yet it has not done so.”
The assessment considered 53 risks linked to future temperature rises of between 2C and 4C of global heating and found there was sufficient adaptation under way for only four. Even if heating was limited to 2C, an optimistic scenario, the number of risks with annual costs in the billions per year would triple by the 2080s, the CCC said.