Pressure is building on the Government to outline how it will mitigate against the biggest risks from climate change after ministers were criticised for "burying" a report highlighting the major global warming threats to Britain.
Climate change experts have called on the Government to clarify its environmental policies on issues from public health to food prices after the Independent reported that the latest UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Report was quietly released on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) website on 18 January.
The report included a warning that the number of deaths attributed to extreme weather could double and said there was a “significant risk” to food supplies as well as the prospect of infrastructure damage from flooding.
However, there was no statement or speech made by the Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom.
And on the day the report was released the official Defra Twitter account posted three tweets relating to the storage of slurry and bird flu, rather than highlighting the report.
Daniel Johns, who sits on the Committee on Climate Change, which compiled the report, said he wanted to see Government policy altered to take account of the findings.
He told the Independent: “We do now expect to see how ministers are taking account of climate change risks in relevant new policies and initiatives.
“For example, the forthcoming 25 year environment plan from Defra should recognise that climate change is expected to place additional pressures on important species and habitats, and current policies will have to be strengthened significantly to avoid further deterioration.
“When it comes to housing and the planning system, ministers should be clear how the increasing risks from flooding and high temperatures are being addressed."
Michael Taylor, an energy analyst at the International Renewable Energy Agency, said Ms Leadsom should now address MPs on the risks posed by climate change.
“When will UK parliament be briefed on the Climate Change Risk Assessment?” he wrote on Twitter. “Appears to be lots of work to do.”
Academics at UK universities also called on the Environment Secretary to actively publicise the report.
Labour’s shadow minister for climate change attacked the Government’s “sly subterfuge” in quietly releasing the report.
“The UK government has opted to tone down the volume when it comes to the truth about the risks we face from climate change,” Barry Gardiner said.
“What this shows is the government’s cynical belief that as long as it publicly says it accepts the science then that is enough.
“But government is about decision and action not about promulgation and assertion. Accepting the science means acting upon it.”
A Government source said a news story was published on the official Government online channel, gov.uk, which was “standard practice” for such a report.
Here are the six “priority risk areas” the Government didn’t want to publicise:
Food prices could rise as a result of extreme weather events, the report states. “Occasional spikes” in the cost of food production would lead to “volatile” prices as well as the longer term impact on the UK’s ability to grow its own crops if nothing is done to address the declining quality of soils and projected water shortages.
Severe heatwaves are expected to “become the norm” by the 2040s, the report says. The number of premature heat-related deaths is forecast to more than triple by the middle of the century, resulting in around 6,000 deaths each year.
Difficult trade-offs between industry, farming and the public water supply are predicted as climate change reduces the amount of water that can be used, especially in the drier months, the report indicates. It says action is needed to reduce demand and leakage to meet the additional needs of a growing population.
The report says climate change may lead to increases in heavy rainfall and increased risks of flooding by 2050. There could also be erosion of the UK’s coastline, which would impact property values and business revenues and in “extreme cases the viability of communities”.
Pests and diseases
A warmer, wetter climate will allow pests to extend their range, the report says, with the potential for tropical diseases to become prevalent in the UK. Diseases such as malaria, West Nile fever, dengue fever and Lyme disease have expanded in Europe in recent years.
Wildlife, marine ecosystems and biodiversity are threatened by climate change, the report warns. Projected increases in soil aridity and wildfire risks will exacerbate existing pressures such as pollution, habitat loss and invasive species, it adds.
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