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Second UK Climate Change Risk Assessment gathers pace

A lot of attention is paid to the global impacts of climate change; melting Arctic ice, coastal flooding and coral bleaching to name a few. But what are the risks to the UK from rising global temperatures? The CCC’s Head of Adaptation, Daniel Johns, looks ahead to the second Climate Change Risk Assessment.

Every five years, the UK Climate Change Act requires the Government of the day to publish a national assessment of the risks and opportunities for the UK from the changing climate. The Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change (the ASC) has been asked to lead the UK’s second Climate Change Risk Assessment evidence report, which is due to be published in 2016.

The first Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) in 2012 was a ground-breaking exercise, and one of the first national risk assessments conducted anywhere in the world. The evidence report, led by the research consultancy HR Wallingford, identified the most significant risks and opportunities facing the UK this century. It highlighted a raft of threats including changes in the expected frequency and magnitude of flooding, impacts on people’s health from extreme hot days, pest and disease outbreaks, and damage to the natural environment. Fewer cold-related deaths, a reduction in winter heating bills, longer growing seasons, and growth in the UK tourist industry were some of the potential benefits. The assessment pointed to the need for national policies to reduce the numerous risks, and in some cases take further action to take advantage of the limited benefits. The Government’s National Adaptation Programme was subsequently published in 2013, and programmes of action have also been produced for each devolved administration.

We’re building upon the approach taken to the first CCRA evidence report in three key ways. The new methodology was agreed early in the process and published in full in 2014.

First, the first CCRA didn’t take full account of how current policies and trends may reduce or enhance future climate impacts. For example, there has been a decline in urban green space in recent years due to new development, and gardens being paved over. Green space helps keep towns and cities cool and reduces the risk of urban flooding. Continuing losses would make the effects of rising temperatures and heavier rainfall even worse. So our approach to assessing the magnitude of particular risks looks at the scale of the current problem, and what we can expect to happen in future given the latest climate projections, combined with other trends. For this assessment, we also plan to summarise the impacts arising in different climate change scenarios. It is not yet clear whether the international agreement to limit global warming to no more than 2oC above pre-industrial levels will be achieved. So, we will present anticipated impacts at a range of degrees of global warming where there is evidence available.

Second, rather than just focussing on the magnitude of various risks and opportunities, we will assess how urgent it is for further action to be taken in the next five year period. Both the magnitude and urgency of risks are important for policy-makers and other stakeholders to understand. The main purpose of the CCRA is to inform the national adaptation programmes in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some risks may be significant, but not urgent, because considerable work to address the risk is already underway, or because steps could be taken at short notice if problems begin to arise.

Flooding, for example, was the most severe risk identified by the first CCRA, but the Government has a six-year plan to invest £2.3 billion in new and replacement flood and coastal defences in England. In this case, more action to protect towns and cities may not be as urgent as further work to alleviate flooding in high flood risk areas where community defences would be too expensive to be justified.

Third, the ASC’s evidence report will look beyond UK shores and consider how climate change overseas may change the nature of the risks and opportunities our country faces. The report will consider the international dimensions of climate change and their implications for the UK in detail, including an assessment of climate change impacts on global food markets, conflict, migration, and the changing need for humanitarian assistance overseas.

We have commissioned a large team to develop the report. The report chapters are being led by a group of nine expert lead contributors. In turn, they are being supported by over 60 contributing authors from a range of sectors and organisations, who have volunteered their time and expertise. Our authors come from a wide range of backgrounds; some are based at universities, while others are consultants or practitioners in climate change adaptation. They have been working hard whenever and wherever they can; in one case whilst stuck in the middle of the Atlantic on a survey vessel! We have also enlisted 25 peer reviewers from the UK and around the world, led by Professor Nigel Arnell at Reading University. More than 100 stakeholders are also helping by giving up their time to attend workshops and review drafts.

Our CCRA evidence report will be published in July 2016. In the meantime, we’re already assessing the results of four independent in-depth research projects produced by a team of organisations led by HR Wallingford, the Met Office, AECOM and Paul Sayers Associates. The projects have been funded with the support of the Natural Environment Research Council. We’ll be presenting the findings of these in more detail over the next few weeks through a series of CCRA-themed blogs.

If you’d like more information or have any comments on the second CCRA, please contact the project lead, Kathryn Humphrey at ccra@theccc.gsi.gov.uk