Flooding, overheating and risks to our food production and supply are some of the biggest threats that face the UK from climate change. The government must take urgent action, according to the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) published in January this year.
This is the second climate risk assessment which under the Climate Change Act, the government must produce every five years. The CCRA assesses current and future risks to the country from climate change, and is informed by an expert Evidence Report by leading academics and consultants.
Of the top climate change risks identified in the UK, four critical areas that need urgent action are:
Flooding and coastal change risks to communities, businesses and infrastructure
Flooding has become more extreme and caused havoc in recent years, devastating parts of the UK. The Evidence Report pointed to compelling evidence that climate change may lead to increases in heavy rainfall. Together with rising sea levels, the risk of flooding and erosion along our coastlines drastically increases.
The government must be more ambitious, ensuring there are long-term strategies in place and delivering more natural flood management policies.
Risks to natural capital, including land, coastal, marine and freshwater ecosystems, soils and biodiversity
Climate change poses significant threats to our natural capital and the goods and services it provides, from timber, food and clean water to carbon storage and the cultural benefits of wildlife and landscapes.
These risks also have knock on effects, for instance the state of the environment and nature may impact the level or seriousness of flooding. Nature can help absorb climate change risks, but only if we start to protect it now.
The government has pointed to the 25 Year Environment Plan as a means of addressing these threats. However, this is now months overdue. ClientEarth will be anticipating precise, legally-binding and ambitious targets for the state of the natural world in the 25 year plan.
Risks to domestic and international food production and trade
Climate change will threaten agricultural productivity – as UK food systems are dependent on natural resources such as soil.
Without policy intervention over the next five years, food prices may rise.
The government believes functioning markets will safeguard food supply so trade arrangements as part of Brexit will be crucial to this.
Risks to health, well-being and productivity from high temperatures
Warming UK temperatures may see an increased risk of overheating, which could see heat-related deaths double by the 2050s (from the current level of around 2,000 per year).
We also learnt from the Climate Change Risk Assessment that:
- Climate risks will affect people differently, depending on their social, economic and cultural environment. Low-income households are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, as they disproportionally affect their resources.
- The Government’s commitments under the Climate Change Act won’t be affected by Brexit.
- Strong domestic environmental laws will be needed to meet our emissions targets if the UK is outside the European Union.
- Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own policies to meet the specific climate risks that affect them. The risks from climate change will vary across the UK because of geography and the policy that exist in the different countries. For example, Scotland has its own climate change legislation – the Climate Change (Scotland) Act.
ClientEarth will monitor the government’s commitments made in the Climate Change Risk Assessment. We look forward to the new 25 Year Plan for the environment and Clean Growth Plan, both overdue.