To limit the most damaging impacts of climate change, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally and adapt to the current and future changes in the climate. Climate change is a defining challenge for every government, yet there is only limited evidence of the present UK Government taking it sufficiently seriously; both on reducing UK emissions and adapting to impacts from global climate change.
The Climate Change Act (2008) made the UK the first country to establish a long-term legally binding framework to cut carbon emissions and have a legal process to adapt. It contains a target requiring emissions reductions by at least 100% (Net Zero) by 2050, and a requirement to assess risks and adapt accordingly. A wider legal commitment, the Paris Agreement also exists, spanning 175 parties, including the UK, the EU and China, to commit to action to tackle climate change. But it will take more than just legislation to ensure we tackle the problem. Change will involve a combination of new technologies, processes and human behaviour.
There are significant benefits of the UK acting now to tackle and adapt to climate change:
- Lower risks from climate change. These include direct benefits (e.g. lower risk of flooding in the UK) and indirect benefits (e.g. reduced exposure to rising food prices and disaster-induced migration and conflict).
- The world has committed to global action on climate change. By reducing its own emissions and supporting adaptation at home and overseas, the UK is supporting wider international efforts.
- Benefits to human health (and savings to the NHS) from a healthy natural environment, increased greenspace, better air quality, less noise, more active travel and a shift to healthier diets.
- Investment in and development of low-carbon technologies and adaptation goods and services will put the UK at the forefront of new and expanding global markets.
- There are opportunities for UK businesses to gain competitive advantage as they shift to the future zero-carbon basis required in the UK and the world.
- In a future world where greenhouse gases are restricted, the cost of emitting those gases (i.e. carbon price) will be high. Early action to reduce emissions – here and elsewhere – can help reduce future costs.
- A large number of adaptation measures are ‘low-regret’ in that they make sense to do even in the absence of climate change, and have a host of wider sustainability benefits. Examples include reducing water use, ensuring homes stay cool in summer, protecting habitats, and increasing urban greenspace to reduce the risk from flooding and heat.