Efforts to adapt to climate risks ‘falling far short’, Government warned

Efforts to adapt to climate risks ‘falling far short’, Government warned

Efforts to make the UK resilient to the impacts of climate change fall “far short” of what is needed, independent advisers have warned.

The Climate Change Committee says adapting the country to cope with climate change impacts, from flooding to drought, must be reflected in every decision and given priority in Government, and receive more public funding.

The independent committee, set up to advise Parliament on climate change, has set out its response to the Government’s plans for ensuring the country is resilient to rising global temperatures.

It comes after the world experienced the hottest February on record, and the UK recorded its fourth wettest.

Globally, the last 12 months have breached, at least temporarily, the 1.5C threshold beyond which the worst impacts of climate change are expected.

The UK has already experienced extreme heatwaves, with temperatures soaring above 40C for the first time in 2022 amid drought conditions and fires, and been hit by flooding caused by very heavy rainfall linked to climate change.

Under the Climate Change Act 2008, the Government has to produce a national adaptation plan every five years, covering policy for England and for the UK in some areas where Westminster has control.

The latest, third, national adaption programme covers 2023 to 2028 and was published by the Government in July 2023, when ministers said it would help protect people, homes and businesses from heatwaves, droughts, floods and other damaging impacts of global warming.

Buildings in York in floodwater
The UK is already facing an increased risk of flooding (Danny Lawson/PA)

The Environment Department (Defra) highlighted the Government’s “resilience framework” and £2.2 billion to improve water quality, as well as a UK Health Security Agency “adverse weather and health plan”.

The programme also said Defra would prioritise nature-based solutions by 2025 such as rain gardens for drainage and natural shading for outdoor spaces, and pointed to its environmental land management scheme to pay farmers for public goods such as clean water and tree planting.

The Department for Education would carry out annual assessments to identify the highest risk settings and provide guidance, and the Ministry of Justice would research the impact of climate on staff and prisoner behaviour, the document said.

But in its assessment of the programme, the Climate Change Committee warned that “compilations of existing policy and initiatives are insufficient” and additional high-ambition commitments were needed.

It also warned increased public funding for adaptation should be a “cornerstone” of an effective response to the risks the UK was facing, as well as helping remove barriers to private investment.

Defra has failed to make adaptation a top priority, and effective cross-Government collaboration is needed to make sure all departments are engaged and recognise the challenges, the committee said.

Measures to adapt to climate change are “insufficiently funded” to manage the scale of impacts the country will face, and the latest programme does not tackle barriers such as low perceived urgency of the issue and a lack of clear targets.

Aerial view of the village of Wennington, east London after a blaze in 2022, showing blackened fields
View after a blaze in Wennington, London, which broke out in July 2022 as temperatures soared to record highs (Aaron Chown/PA)

Better monitoring is also vital to driving delivery of action to make the country resilient to climate change.

There is currently a window to build more effective climate resilience, as long-term decisions were being made on the new environmental land management scheme, and there are new price control periods for energy, water and rail which could include standards to manage future climate risks.

These opportunities must be “grabbed before another window for meaningful change closes”, the committee urged .

Baroness Brown, chairwoman of the adaptation sub-committee, said: “The evidence of the damage from climate change has never been clearer, but the UK’s current approach to adaptations not working.

“Defra needs to deliver an immediate strengthening of the Government’s programme, with an overhaul of its integration with other Government priorities such as net zero and nature restoration.

“We cannot wait another five years for only incremental improvement,” she said.

Darren Rodwell, environment spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said polling showed just 5% of the public felt prepared for the impacts of climate change and that they trusted their council most to lead the effort to prepare communities.

“We must be given the tools and funding needed to make that happen,” he said.