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Adapting to a warmer UK

In the 2019 Progress Report, the Adaptation Committee found a substantial gap between current plans and current requirements for adaptation and an even greater shortfall in action. The Government has not increased adaptation policy ambition and implementation through its latest National Adaptation Programme despite the increasing urgency of addressing the risks from climate change.

We are now seeing the impacts of a global temperature rise of just 1°C above pre-industrial levels.  The Paris Agreement targets a global temperature rise threshold of well below 2°C, ideally 1.5°C, but current global plans give only a 50% chance of meeting 3°C. In these circumstances, although the UK is committed to working for global action to parallel our own adoption of a net-zero statutory target, it is prudent to plan adaptation strategies for a scenario of 4°C, but there is little evidence of adaptation planning for even 2°C.  Adaptation planning takes time, especially for infrastructure, buildings and the natural environment, which means actions need to start now to avoid ‘lock-in’ to high levels of risk in 2050 and beyond.

Current progress

Planning for climate change adaptation is a statutory obligation but the National Adaptation Programme (NAP) is incomplete in that is does not address all of the risks set out in the UK climate change risk assessment. The Committee was unable to give high scores for managing risk to any of the sectors we have assessed in our most recent report in 2019.

  • In the most recent 2019 Progress Report:
    • Of the 56 risks and opportunities identified in the UK’s most recent Climate Change Risk Assessment, 21 have no formal actions in the NAP.
    • Of the 33 ‘adaptation priorities’ assessed in this report plans for 12 of them appear to include no assessment of the long-term risks from climate change and the threat of ‘locking in’ irreversible change from decisions being taken today.
    • Plans for the other 21 adaptation priorities in this report do consider the long-term risks from climate change, but there is little evidence that a 2°C rise in global temperature is being planned for, let alone any assessment of adapting to a 3 or 4°C rise.

Planning for a minimum of 2°C, with consideration of more extreme scenarios should be a Government requirement for all departmental and public sector plans and policies that are likely to be affected by climate change.