Cross-cutting issues

Effective adaptation cannot be undertaken without careful consideration of the cross-cutting nature of risks and synergies between adaptation activities. Unless cross-cutting issues are considered, actions could be ineffective, sub-optimal in terms of their costs and benefits, or lead to unintended consequences.

The main cross-cutting factors relating to climate change risks in the UK are:

  • Interactions among risks: climate change risks act together to impact upon natural capital, water security, food security, wellbeing, economic prosperity and ultimately global security.
  • Indirect and macroeconomic impacts: the evidence suggests that indirect economic losses to the UK from climate risks are likely to be at least of the same order of magnitude as the identified direct losses. To date there has been little assessment of the potential macroeconomic impact of climate change for the UK.
  • Distributional impacts: climate change will affect different people differently, depending on their social, economic and cultural background, and local environment. Low income households are particularly susceptible to climate change impacts, as these impacts would disproportionately affect their disposable income. These groups also have lower capacity and resources to adapt.

Cross-cutting issues figure

Cross-cutting issues relating to adaptation planning and policy responses are:

  • Institutional barriers: current institutional frameworks for adaptation in the UK have the potential to deliver outcomes that achieve multiple benefits. However, obstacles to success include unclear or unmeasurable adaptation policy goals across correlated risks; a large number of partners involved in delivering adaptation activity; the limited alignment between related policy goals (e.g. flood risk management with housing and planning policies); and capacity gaps, including as a result of funding and resource constraints, particularly at the local level.
  • Unintended consequences: taking interacting risks in to account, together with non-climate drivers of risk (e.g. changing demographics or technology), and addressing institutional barriers, can help policies succeed and avoid the risk of unintended consequences. Such a cross-cutting approach, as advocated in the HM Treasury Green Book, is not always followed in practice.
  • Adaptive capacity: addressing climate change risks systematically requires considerable knowledge, skills and resources. Shortages in capacity can lead to a focus solely on ‘incremental change at the margin’, with more fundamental and ultimately beneficial (‘transformational’) change considered too difficult, expensive or risky in the absence of detailed appraisal and exploration. Opportunities to achieve co-benefits are lost as a result.


Lead Contributor: Roger Street (UKCIP)

Contributing authors: Emily Boyd (University of Reading), Douglas Crawford-Brown, (University of Cambridge), Jens Evans (Environment Agency), Jim Kitchen (Sustainable Northern Ireland), Alistair Hunt (University of Bath), Katharine Knox (Joseph Rowntree Foundation), Ragne Low (ClimateXChange), Robert McCall (Natural Resources Wales), Paul Watkiss (University of Oxford), Rob Wilby (Loughborough University)

ASC contributors: Manuela Di Mauro, Kathryn Humphrey and Daniel Johns