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It’s time to turn the tide on UK adaptation action

The recent assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has once again highlighted the stark reality of climate change unfolding across the globe due to human activity. As the planet continues to warm, we will continue to see changes in weather and weather extremes, including in the UK. Extreme heat will become more frequent and intense, winters wetter and episodes of summer rainfall will be heavier, and UK sea levels will continue to rise. International efforts to reduce emissions and limit warming are essential to avoid the most extreme changes in our weather, but in all cases further climate change over the next few decades will still occur. Planning for these future changes is vital to help limit the impact that they will have on our health, environment, and wider society.

Our recent report to Parliament on adaptation progress shows we’re lagging far behind where we need to be to ensure resilience to climate change in England. We have also looked back at how our climate adaptation recommendations in our 2020 Progress Report to Parliament have been actioned. The table below rates progress against our 39 adaptation recommendations 12 months on. Overall, it reveals a mixed picture:

  • Government action on adaptation is underway in some areas but is still mostly lacking. Around 36% of our recommendations have been fully achieved, are underway or are partly achieved. There are signs of activity across Government. However, overall, the actual implementation of adaptation policy continues to lag far behind actions to reduce emissions. More than 75% of our recommendations in 2020 on emissions reduction have been either achieved, partly achieved or are underway. Worryingly, only one adaptation recommendation has been achieved in full – to publish an updated, long-term adaptation strategy to address increasing flooding risk.
  • Major gaps remain in implementing effective adaptation policy. Most of our recommendations from 2020 (around 64%) have not been achieved. No additional policy action to drive forward our recommendations has occurred in several areas key to minimising climate risks. For example, we have not yet seen any improvement in the 25 Year Environment Plan restoration targets for terrestrial and freshwater habitats. We’d like them to include all semi-natural habitat types that are identified as being the most threatened and requiring conservation action. We’re also waiting for the introduction of a national target to increase the area of urban greenspace, and there has, as yet, been little clarification about how the impacts of flooding and coastal erosion will be managed in future planning policy.
  • There are signs of a multi-speed approach in Government to adaptation action. Outside Defra (the lead department for climate change adaptation) the majority of our 2020 recommendations have not been achieved, despite important progress in some areas, including a new requirement to combat overheating proposed for inclusion in the Building Regulations which are being overseen by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government). Overall, then, adaptation policy remains siloed and has not yet been integrated into Government-wide activity.

There is still a window for ministers to implement our recommendations ahead of the next comprehensive National Adaptation Programme for England which is due in 2023. Only with action now will we be able to deliver the step change we need to address the risks we face. Our updated recommendations are available in our latest report to Parliament.

Government should be taking these shortfalls seriously and urgently closing the gaps – delivering a Net Zero, climate resilient nation depends on it.

Join us for the CCRA webinar series to understand the climate risks we face in more detail –  https://www.theccc.org.uk/news-insights/coming-up/