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What are the risks?

The UK’s climate is changing. Even with very ambitious actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally, further climate change and impacts for the UK are inevitable. Stabilising global temperature rise at 1.5 – 2°C above pre-industrial levels would prevent some of the most extreme impacts, but current global pledges to reduce emissions are not enough, and are likely to lead to increases of 3°C or more.

Globally, the IPCC has identified a range of concerns for the future, including:

  • irreversible impacts – even at more moderate changes in global temperature, particularly for Arctic ecosystems and coral reefs.
  • extreme weather events
  • severe impacts on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations
  • environmental and economic damage
  • large-scale singular events (such as further sea level rise as major ice sheets melt over Greenland and Antarctica)

In the UK:

  • The average annual temperature in is around 1°C warmer than the pre-industrial period
  • The chances of experiencing hot summers like in 2018 have doubled in recent decades and are now about 10-20% per year. This will rise to 50% by 2050.
  • Sea level has risen by 16cm since 1900, and will continue to rise for centuries due to time lags in the climate system.

The UK climate change risk assessment (CCRA) shows a range of risks to the UK under different future scenarios of climate change.  It provides estimates of the current and future level of risk from flooding and coastal change; water scarcity; extreme heat; wildfires and storms.  These hazards will have increasing impacts on the natural environment, people, and the economy. At the same time, there could be some opportunities, including reduced energy demand in winter, and a growing adaptation services sector.

These risks and opportunities will become more pronounced in the future, and new risks will emerge, as global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. However, the risks can be limited by reducing greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) and preparing for change (adaptation). Adaptation is needed alongside global mitigation to plan for the risks from climate change.

The Adaptation Committee of the Committee on Climate Change provides advice to the Government on climate change risks and opportunities for the UK through the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, and measures progress on adaptation in England, reporting to Parliament every two years.