Government sat on ‘lost decade’ of climate adaptation, say advisers

The Climate Change Committee said the new National Adaptation Programme, due this summer, must not repeat the same ‘lacklustre’ mistakes.

Danny Halpin
Wednesday 29 March 2023 00:01 BST
The unprecedented 40C heatwave that sparked destructive wildfires last summer are a ‘warning’, the Climate Change Committee said (PA)
The unprecedented 40C heatwave that sparked destructive wildfires last summer are a ‘warning’, the Climate Change Committee said (PA) (PA Archive)

The Government has presided over a “lost decade” and failed to adequately plan and adapt to climate change, its advisers have said.

A new report from the Climate Change Committee (CCC), which advises the Government on its climate policy, concluded that its lack of planning and failure to implement adaptation policies where they exist risks exposing the UK to a host of climate-related threats.

The CCC examined the preparedness of various sectors such as food security, water supply, transport, health, business, agriculture and finance and found adaptation efforts to be “lacking across the board”.

Of the 45 adaptation outcomes the Government wants to achieve, the CCC said only five have fully credible plans, while there is no evidence of effective measures being implemented in any of them.

Baroness Brown, chairwoman of the CCC’s adaptation committee, said: “The last decade has been a lost decade in terms of preparing for and adapting to the risks – the risks we already have and those that we know are coming.

“Whilst we’ve seen some progress in planning for climate change, in fact there is still very little evidence of impact on the ground.”

Last summer was an example and a warning, she said, citing the record-breaking 40C temperatures, 1,000 heat-related deaths, 20% of hospital operations cancelled, rail disruption, widespread drought and a spate of wildfires that destroyed dozens of homes.

She added: “The Government’s lack of urgency on climate resilience is in sharp contrast to the recent experience of people in this country.

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

Not only are we ill-equipped for what’s happening now, but we’re also nowhere near ready for what could happen in the future

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP

Even if the global goal of reaching net zero is achieved, the climate will continue to warm for another 30 years, said Chris Stark, the CCC’s chief executive, so the UK must prepare for hotter and more unstable conditions.

The Government’s National Adaptation Programme (NAP), however, which sets out its plan to prepare for climate change, “fails to match the challenge facing the country”, the CCC said.

It lacks vision, is not underpinned by tangible outcomes or targets and has not driven policy or implementation across Government, they added.

The third NAP, due for publication this summer, is a “make-or-break moment to avoid a further five years of lacklustre planning and preparation”.

Gareth Redmond-King, international lead at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “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.”

Professor Chris Hilson, director of the Centre for Climate and Justice at the University of Reading, said: “Climate adaptation policy must be joined up with policy on mitigation.

“With homes overheating in summer heatwaves, for example, there is little point spending money on this without at the same time tackling poor insulation and energy efficiency to cope with cold winter temperatures.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas added: “In the past year we’ve seen flooding, drought, chronic food shortages and the hottest temperatures on record – the climate emergency has well and truly arrived.

“Not only are we ill-equipped for what’s happening now, but we’re also nowhere near ready for what could happen in the future. Adapting to the climate emergency is not a matter of choice, but necessity.

“Mitigating its very worst impacts – while delivering green and resilient homes, healthy and low-carbon food and a restored natural world – requires not just more planning, but also more political will to act with real urgency.”

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