Sir James Bevan is urging the public and private sectors to instead adopt “net zero plus” policies, which work to reduce emissions while adapting to extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels already caused by global warming.
Adapting to a changing climate will allow businesses to “thrive”, he will argue, and provide opportunities to “build back better from flooding, create greener, cleaner cities and enhance nature at the same time as locking up carbon”.
A suggested slogan for the movement will be “adapt and thrive”, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.
The UK has a current target to drive down its greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, which requires cutting emissions as much as possible and carrying out actions such as planting trees to offset the impact of any remaining pollution.
But, speaking at the Whitehall and industry group’s net zero roundtable on Tuesday, Sir James will say that even if all the world’s carbon emissions were halted overnight, the impact of pollution that has already occurred would be felt for decades.
He will also stress the importance of projects that both help the world move towards net zero – through carbon sequestration – and help it adapt to irreversible climate change.
These include measures such as the “keeping rivers cool” project in which the Environment Agency and other organisations are planting 300,000 trees along rivers to lock up carbon and keep the waterways shadier and cooler for salmon and trout.
Global average temperatures have already warmed by 1C above pre-industrial levels, with impacts of more frequent and extreme flooding, water shortages, coastal erosion and damage to wildlife and cultural heritage, he will say.
In all future climate scenarios, sea levels will continue to rise, he warns.
Sir James is expected to tell the meeting: “Even with the ambitious global and national action we all want to see to reduce emissions, some further climate change is now inevitable.
“That is why as a nation we need to be climate ready so that we are resilient to the future hazards and potential shocks that would otherwise impact our economy, our prosperity and our lifestyle.
“In the Cold War, the government ran a campaign called Protect and Survive. If we want to respond to the existential threat we face today – the climate emergency – then we could adopt a variation on that slogan, adapt and thrive.
“We need to design and build our infrastructure, our cities and our economy so that they are resilient to the effects of the changing climate.”
But he will stress: “The point is not just to survive. If we adapt right, we can thrive too.”
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