Third UK Climate Change Risk Assessment highlights urgency of adaptation

Energy & Climate Change

The latest Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk (CCRA3) from the Climate Change Committee (CCC)an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008 launched virtually today against the backdrop of the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) – the venue for COP26.

CCC chief executive and session host Chris Stark revealed that this was a deliberate move designed to show government that the report, the first in five years and one the CCC’s most ambitious, and plans for COP26 must be tied together.

UN special envoy on climate action and finance Mark Carney opened up the session by declaring that the CCRA3 report made for “sobering reading”, with several forecasted scenarios for everything from water scarcity risk to heat related deaths revealing an upward trend. And, disconcertingly, it was argued that these predicted trends may not be bucked even if net zero targets are reached.

So; what’s the remedy to this? The message from the report is clear; adaptation, adaptation, adaptation.

The report's technical analysis – which saw contribution from more than 450 individuals across a range of organisations – reveals that just four of numerous government policies published relating to climate change in the last five years integrate announcements about adaptation, including the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England, while the 11 others cited either mention and don’t integrate it or don’t mention it at all. The latter includes the UK Treasury cost review of transitioning to a green economy.

This lack of focus on adaptation chimes with chair of the Adaptation Committee Baroness Brown’s assessment that adaptation “remains the Cinderella of climate change, often underfunded and overlooked”.

For the CCRA3 targets for reducing emissions and adaptation must be twinned in order to successfully plan for the risks and capitalise on the potential opportunities – such as the ice caps melting opening up international trade routes – presented by climate change.

The report outlines a total of 61 risks and opportunities – 54 with high urgency scores – but highlighted eight that need to be actioned within the next two years. The latter being part of the CCC’s attempt to ensure that the CCRA3 makes the transition from policy to practice and can be successfully filtered down to local authorities and community organisations; two of the criticism’s aimed at past CCRA’s during the session.

These eight are:
• Overheating homes and buildings
• Climate impacts overseas
• Power system
• Carbon stores and sequestration
• Food supply
• Agriculture
• Terrestrial and freshwater habitats
• Soil health

Responding to the report CIWEM’s head of policy Alastair Chisholm said: “There's a depressing familiarity about many of the headlines raised today by the third climate change risk assessment. The climate change committee made clear that in previous risk assessments it warned about the pressing need for action by government. These warnings fell on deaf ears and intransigence over the last decade.

“Now, the gap between risks – that people are seeing and experiencing now – and policy response is even greater. Government must wake up to the alarm bells. Adaptation and resilience is about far more than floods and drought. It's about food, transport, business, supply chains, health and wellbeing, our homes, the energy we need. Every part of the economy. All ministers need to recognise this reality and embed urgent climate resilience action in their current and future policy development.”

The report also makes nine recommendations on how adaptation can be approached, these include preparing for unpredictable extremes and preparing for a 2-degree rise in temperatures, while assessing the risk of a 4-degree rise. Crucial as adaptation can remain an abstract concept, with many struggling to envision what it looks like compared to the oft cited net zero.

Something that Stark readily admits: “I don’t like the term adaptation as people often don’t know what it means. We need language that cuts through and I think resilience is something that people understand. In general the CCC has a broader role to communicate and demystify this language to make it more accessible, which is partly why we’re doing broadcasts like this."

Harder still is getting people on board with adaptation where this is so much tunnel vision for net zero.

"Bringing in the new message of adaptation isn’t easy. But it’s really important that we don’t put all of our eggs in the net zero basket and ignore adaptation," says Stark. "We need to talk about the benefits of adaptation, alongside the benefits of net zero."

Could CCC head of adaptation Kathryn Brown’s suggestion of a climate assembly for adaptation similar to the one we have for net zero be one way to move things forward?

Stark ends by saying the CCC is “desperate not to be a council of despair” and that the report will have some positive takeaways.

Only time will tell if the report lands with the government, devolved governments and wider groups and whether two years gearing up to the next National Adaptation Plan is really enough see the eight priorities come to fruition.

Both these topics are likely to be hotly debated in the coming weeks and months.

Baroness Brown also makes one final rallying call to government arguing that “it’s time for action, not more announcement of plans”.

Keen to expand your understanding of adaptation? Read CIWEM’s guidance on Climate Change Adaptation Reporting in the UK Mainstreaming best practice and harnessing the benefits.

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