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Planning for climate impacts falls short once again

February 2024 was the warmest on record. In the UK, it was the fourth wettest February ever recorded. Climate change is now bringing major challenges to the UK, but the CCC’s assessment of the Government’s Third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3) is that it falls far short of what is required. Evidence of the UK’s inadequate response to worsening climate impacts continues to mount.

Published in July 2023, NAP3 is the UK Government’s statutory plan to ensure the country is prepared for the effects of climate change. It improves upon previous programmes, but its key failure remains the absence of a credible vision for a well-adapted UK, resilient to the climate risks now facing British people and businesses.

“The evidence of the damage from climate change has never been clearer, but the UK’s current approach to adaptation is 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.”

Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee

NAP3 contains a commitment to an evolving programme over its lifetime. This should be acted on as soon as possible. The NAP3 programme is based largely on existing policy or mechanisms. That means that less than half of the short-term actions to address urgent risks identified in the last Climate Change Risk Assessment are being progressed. There are critical issues which need to be resolved:

  • Governance. Over three iterations of the NAP, Defra has failed to make adaptation a top priority within the department or in other central government departments, despite the growing evidence of climate impacts. It is still not sufficiently well-understood or resourced, particularly in local government. The present approach of coordination by Defra is not working. Effective cross-Government collaboration is needed to ensure all departments are engaged with adaptation and recognise the challenges that climate impacts can have across multiple sectors at any one time.
  • Investment. Adaptation in the UK is insufficiently funded to manage the scale of the climate impacts we will experience. NAP3 does not tackle effectively the barriers to investment, such as low perceived urgency of adaptation, lack of clear targets and the limited understanding of adaptation actions. There also remains a limited understanding on the role of spending on adaptation from the private and public sector.
  • Monitoring. The CCC cannot fully assess progress without better monitoring and evaluation. A system of comprehensive indicators and data collection is vital and – as seen in other countries – it improves the response to climate impacts.

There is currently a window to build more effective climate resilience in the UK. Long-term decisions are being taken on the new Environmental Land Management Scheme, there are new price control periods for energy, water and rail, which could accommodate effective resilience standards to manage future climate risks. These opportunities must be grabbed before another window for meaningful change closes.

Since the publication of NAP3, there has been international agreement on the framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation at COP28. Despite the UK being an important player in the negotiation of this, the current NAP does not meet the targets within the new Framework in full.

The NAP’s status across Government remains too low. It must be strengthened to make it fit for the gravity of known climate risks in the UK.

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