UK is ‘strikingly unprepared’ for climate change disasters

Food security, water and energy highlighted in report as major issues for concern in the future

Last year Cantref Reservoir in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, suffered low water levels. PA
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The UK’s climate watchdog has issued a stark warning in its latest report that the nation is “strikingly unprepared” for climate change disasters.

In its latest report, the Climate Change Committee has identified 45 areas that need to be addressed and says there is “insufficient evidence” that reductions in climate exposure and vulnerability are happening at the rates required to manage risks appropriately.

It has highlighted food security, water and energy as major issues that need to be examined.

The report has been published ahead of the government’s publication of its third National Adaptation Programme this summer and it warns this will be a “make or break” moment to avoid a further five years of “lacklustre planning and preparation for the changing climate” by the UK.

Baroness Brown, chair of the Adaptation Committee, said the UK had wasted a decade by not addressing the known risks.

“The government’s lack of urgency on climate resilience is in sharp contrast to the recent experience of people in this country,” she said.

“People, nature and infrastructure face damaging impacts as climate change takes hold. These impacts will only intensify in the coming decades.

“This has been a lost decade in preparing for and adapting to the known risks that we face from climate change. Each month that passes without action locks in more damaging impacts and threatens the delivery of other key government objectives, including Net Zero. We have laid out a clear path for government to improve the country’s climate resilience. They must step up.”

The report criticised the lack of reporting by large food firms on their supply chain risks.

It follows recent food security issues, which led to a shortage of imported vegetables due to weather events overseas.

“Half the UK’s food is imported, and half of that comes from climate change hotspots,” said Gareth Redmond-King, head of international programme at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.

“Food supply is just one of the ways our national security is imperilled by an increasingly unstable world. Last year, gas prices and climate impacts added hundreds of pounds to British consumers’ food bills. This year, yields of some vegetable crops have fallen off the back of extreme heat and subsequent drought.”

The report has also criticised the “insufficient” progress which has been made in protecting water supplies by reducing demand and leakages and it says the energy sector as a whole lacks key milestones such as resilience standards, and data on exposure for hazards.

Following last year’s temperatures of 40°C leading to a record number of heat-related deaths, it has warned there is a lack of policy and funding to address climate risks in existing health and social care buildings, as there is no regular recording of temperatures.

The report also warns flood risks are rising across the UK but there needs to be more funding to maintain defences and manage surface water flood risks.

“The current National Adaptation Programme fails to match the scale of the challenge now facing the country. It lacks a clear vision,” the report states.

“It is not underpinned by tangible outcomes or targets. It has not driven policy and implementation across government.

“Wider policy priorities, including Net Zero and nature recovery, will fail if adaptation to climate change is not incorporated from the start.

“The absence of robust monitoring and evaluation is also a barrier. Key data sets to evaluate resilience do not exist or have limitations that prevent effective tracking of climate resilience. A well-resourced climate change adaptation monitoring and evaluation programme is now an urgent priority.”

The Committee has concluded “significant policy gaps” remain and the next programme needs to make “a step change”.

“The second National Adaptation Programme has not adequately prepared the UK for climate change. Our assessment has found very limited evidence of the implementation of adaptation at the scale needed to fully prepare for climate risks facing the UK across cities, communities, infrastructure, economy and ecosystems,” it said.

“While the recognition of a changing climate within planning and policy is increasing, with some policy in most areas, it is clear that the current approach to adaptation policy is not leading to delivery on the ground and significant policy gaps remain.

“The impacts from extreme weather in the UK over the last year highlight the urgency of adapting to climate change.

“The next National Adaptation Programme must make a step change. The next National Adaptation Programme must be much more ambitious than its predecessors and lead to a long overdue shift in focus towards the delivery of effective adaptation.”

The Committee plans a further appraisal of the third National Adaptation Programme following its publication later this year but hopes the recommendations it has made across all government departments will see important “policy milestones” implemented.

Updated: March 29, 2023, 6:12 AM