World-leading academics from the University of Exeter have contributed to the report.

Acting together can reduce the risks climate change poses to the UK

Is the government doing enough to protect the UK from the impacts of climate change? The independent Committee on Climate Change today concludes that the impacts of climate change are already being felt in the UK, and urgent action is required to address climate-related risks. The evidence is based on a risk assessment by world-leading academics from a range of institutions, including Exeter.

Climate change is happening now according to a new report involving experts at the University of Exeter. Globally, 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000.

The ASC’s new independent report to Government, ‘UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report’ sets out the most urgent risks and opportunities arising for the UK from climate change.

The report is the result of more than three years of work involving hundreds of leading scientists and experts from the public and private sectors and civil society. The risk assessment has been peer reviewed by UK and international specialists.

Changes to the UK climate are likely to include periods of too much or too little water, increasing average and extreme temperatures, and sea level rise. The report concludes that the most urgent risks for the UK resulting from these changes are:

  • Flooding and coastal change risks to communities, businesses and infrastructure.
  • Risks to health, wellbeing and productivity from high temperatures.
  • Risk of shortages in the public water supply, and water for agriculture, energy generation and industry, with impacts on freshwater ecology.
  • Risks to natural capital, including terrestrial, coastal, marine and freshwater ecosystems, soils and biodiversity.
  • Risks to domestic and international food production and trade.
  • Risks of new and emerging pests and diseases, and invasive non-native species, affecting people, plants and animals.

The opportunities for the UK from climate change include:

  • UK agriculture and forestry may be able to increase production with warmer weather and longer growing seasons, if constraints such as water availability and soil fertility are managed.
  • There may be economic opportunities for UK businesses from an increase in global demand for adaptation-related goods and services, such as engineering and insurance.

The impact of the recent vote to leave the European Union does not change the overall conclusions of the risk assessment. However, some individual risks may change if EU-derived policies and legislation are withdrawn and not replaced by equivalent or better UK measures. The Adaptation Sub-Committee will assess the implications of the EU referendum in its next statutory report to Parliament on the UK National Adaptation Programme, due to be published in June 2017.

Neil Adger, University of Exeter, an author of the report said: “We assessed how climate change globally poses risks to the UK. Food availability and prices, displacement of people because of climate change and risks of conflict and geo-political rivalry pose new challenges and dilemmas for international co-operation. This is an interdependence issue. No country, no community, and no sector is immune from climate change risks. The impacts come to the UK through our open trade, our food and our responsibilities around the world. Our evidence is clear: we cannot protect vulnerable populations here and globally without coordinated action with other countries, not least with our immediate neighbours.”

Professor Richard Betts, Chair in Climate Impacts at the University of Exeter and Head of Climate Impacts Research at the Met Office, was also involved in the first CCRA, contributed to the chapter on Climate Science and Risk Assessment. Professor Betts said "This second Risk Assessment provides greater depth and wider context to the conclusions of the first CCRA. It is clear that the global climate is changing and that the UK needs to remain resilient to this, and also be ready to make the most of any opportunities that may occur. Forward planning based on a comprehensive risk assessment provides crucial information to underpin the important and complex policy decisions that are being made."

Lord Krebs, Chairman of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “The impacts of climate change are becoming ever clearer, both in the United Kingdom and around the world. We must take action now to prepare for the further, inevitable changes we can expect. Our independent assessment today, supported by the work of hundreds of scientists and other experts, identifies the most urgent climate change risks and opportunities which need to be addressed. Delaying or failing to take appropriate steps will increase the costs and risks for all UK nations arising from the changing climate.”

Date: 12 July 2016

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