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Climate change has arrived, yet the country is still strikingly unprepared

The UK’s first 40OC day, in summer 2022, was the clearest indication that climate change has arrived in this country. Last year’s record breaking temperatures brought unprecedented heat-related deaths, wildfire incidents and significant infrastructure disruption. The impacts of climate change will intensify over coming decades, leaving the UK vulnerable without better resilience planning and preparation.

In this report on England’s adaptation progress, the Climate Change Committee publishes a new appraisal of the outcomes needed to build climate resilience across the economy – and the extent of policies and delivery to meet them.

There is a striking lack of climate preparation from Government:

  • Policies and plans. Despite some evidence of improved sectoral planning by Government for key climate risks, ‘fully credible’ planning for climate change – where nearly all required policy milestones are in place – is only found for five of the 45 adaptation outcomes examined in this report.
  • Delivery and implementation. In none of the 45 adaptation outcomes was their sufficient evidence that reductions in climate exposure and vulnerability are happening at the rates required to manage risks appropriately. For around one-quarter of outcomes, available indicators show insufficient evidence of progress.

Baroness Brown, chair of the Adaptation Committee, said: “The Government’s lack of urgency on climate resilience is in sharp contrast to the recent experience of people in this country. People, nature and infrastructure face damaging impacts as climate change takes hold. These impacts will only intensify in the coming decades.

“This has been a lost decade in preparing for and adapting to the known risks that we face from climate change. Each month that passes without action locks in more damaging impacts and threatens the delivery of other key Government objectives, including Net Zero. We have laid out a clear path for Government to improve the country’s climate resilience. They must step up.”

Assessing the National Adaptation Programme

In 2022, Government’s own Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3) identified 61 separate risks and opportunities for the UK from the changing climate. These span the natural environment, infrastructure, the economy, and society. The Committee’s report assesses progress in preparing for these risks.

The current National Adaptation Programme fails to match the scale of the challenge now facing the country. It lacks a clear vision. It is not underpinned by tangible outcomes or targets. It has not driven policy and implementation across Government.

Wider policy priorities, including Net Zero and nature recovery, will fail if adaptation to climate change is not incorporated from the start.

The absence of robust monitoring and evaluation is also a barrier. Key datasets to evaluate resilience do not exist or have limitations that prevent effective tracking of climate resilience. A well-resourced climate change adaptation monitoring and evaluation programme is now an urgent priority.

A make-or-break moment to improve the country’s preparedness

The Government will publish the third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3) this summer. The Committee’s report makes several recommendations for that new programme.

This is a make-or-break moment to avoid a further five years of lacklustre planning and preparation for the changing climate by Defra. A strong programme is also a key element of the UK’s contribution to the global effort to tackle climate change and an essential part of the UK’s international leadership on climate change.

The Committee plans a further appraisal of the third National Adaptation Programme following its publication later this year.