With global temperatures on the rise combined with a significant increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, investigations into methods of staving off climate change’s most dire consequences are continually in the works. And as an inevitable phenomenon at the moment, adaptation is the key response to minimising the unfavourable effects of climate change.
One such approach in discussion is managed retreat – in other words, deliberately getting out of harm’s way. Managed retreat involves the strategic relocation of assets and people away from areas at risk, enabling restoration of those areas to their natural state.
While migration is far from a simple solution and comes with its own set of complications, a Wisconsin reservation offers a climate success story.
The relocation of Odanah
In 1960, the village of Odanah, Wisconsin was up to its neck in floodwaters. The town, home to thousands of members of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe, had been built on the banks of the Bad River in the middle of a flood plain.
The flood had a magnitude 1.25 times the 100-year recurrence interval and became a turning point in the village’s history.
Three years later, the Bad River Housing Authority was established, and the first displaced families moved into new houses a few miles up the highway. In the next three decades, waves of people would move out of the flood plain until virtually the entire town had relocated to higher ground. And the relocation could not have had more optimal timing, as the real monster, in terms of quantity of water, came through directly afterwards.
Flooding in Wisconsin during the summer of 2016 resulted in damages estimated at $30 million USD with the state governor declaring a State of Emergency after rainfall amounts reaching 12 inches occurred within an eight-hour period.
Nicholas Pinter, a geologist at the University of California, Davis, says that moving out of the flood plain before the big flood is almost unheard of, which is exactly what makes the Odanah success story so unique.
“In a way, Odanah was very successfully moved right before the monster flood, the 2016 flood, came through,” he said. “That saved many hundreds of structures from potential flood damage.”
Quantifying the damage avoided
To fully understand the magnitude of managed retreats on minimising damages, the next step is to quantify the damages avoided. Pinter and James Rees, a student at the University of California, Davis, are hoping that hard numbers will be helpful for other governments trying to make similar decisions.
Long-term risks are notoriously difficult for local governments to plan for due to the complexities and uncertainties involved, and this is especially true for disasters like floods, which have a low likelihood of happening in any given year.
But using Odanah as a focal point, the duo is working at combining old maps with satellite data in an attempt to quantify the amount of damage that would have occurred in 2016 if the town had failed to move prior to the flood.
Use of migration as a risk reduction and adaptation strategy
Estimates vary widely, but between 25 million and 1 billion people could be on the move or permanently displaced due to climate risks by 2050, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate, according to a 2015 study.
According to researchers, voluntary migration can lessen the risk of displacement by reducing exposure to climate hazards, and is therefore a contribution to individual and societal adaptation. Serving as an autonomous adaptation strategy, voluntary migration may appear as a reliable fix. But conversely, not everyone is equally able to act in this way to avoid climate impacts, or indeed wants to.
For one, those who lack the resources and networks to escape deteriorating environmental conditions may be unable to move, and therefore trapped in conditions of vulnerability. Migration can be relatively expensive with many social and legal barriers in the way, making it a rather poor bet for households already on the brink. Estimates suggest that the number of people unable to move away from climate change degraded areas may climb into the tens of millions by 2050.
Additionally, forced migration can be connected to loss of land, culture, identity and even sovereignty. In the case of Odanah, the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe’s existence in Wisconsin is itself the result of a relocation forced by invading Europeans who drove them West. More recently, the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 prompted relocation by creating incentives for people living on reservations to move away from their allotted land and into cities.
In some parts of the country, entire tribes collapsed as the federal government ordered tribal government to dissolve, and it became financially impossible for families to remain on their land. Although not entirely forced, this can only serve to accentuate the circumstances under which Odanah began moving after the flood of 1960.
The line between voluntary migration and forced displacement from climate change can be difficult to determine. Much movement – and indeed most movement related to environmental factors – is not entirely forced or voluntary, but rather falls somewhere on a continuum between the two, with multiple factors contributing to whether a person moved, where they move, how. But as with the Odanah relocation, what happens when the reasons for residing in a climate catastrophe prone area were unfair to begin with?
One example is Newtok in Alaska, where erosion is forcing the primarily Yup’ik Native village to relocate. As temperatures increase, the frozen permafrost underneath the village, which was established as a consequence for forced settlement, is thawing resulting in about 70 feet of land erosion each year. Since 1994, the Newtok community has been desperately seeking out funding to aid in their relocation to a plot of land 9 miles away. And more than twenty years later, money still remains the largest barrier in their endeavours.
As of March, the village secured more than $15 million USD in funding to begin relocating households to safer ground inland. This amount, however, is still just a fraction of what is required to relocate the entire village. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the total cost of relocation could be as much as $130 million USD.
If there is not enough money to relocate the village collectively, Newtok residents could be forced to scatter, putting their community, culture, the Yup’ik language and identity at risk.
Without clear responsibilities and allocated funds to deal with managed retreat, vulnerable communities will continue to struggle to find permanent solutions to their predicament. Although FEMA has pushed for communities to plan for climate change, the federal government currently doesn’t have policies to deal with issues like relocation. As more communities face similar problems, a legal solution could be the only way to stay above water. And, as Odanah showed, managed retreat can turn out a success.
Rising fire suppression costs over the past three decades have nearly destroyed the U.S. Forest Service’s budget. Overall funding for the agency, which does most federal firefighting, has been flat for decades, while fire suppression costs have grown dramatically.
Earlier this year Congress passed a “fire funding fix” that changes the way in which the federal government will pay for large fires during expensive fire seasons. This is vital for helping to restore the Forest Service budget. But the funding fix doesn’t affect the factors that drive costs, such as climate trends and more people living in fire prone landscapes.
More burn days, more fuel
Why are costs increasing so dramatically? Many factors have come together to create a perfect storm. Climate change, past forest and fire management practices, housing development, increased focus on community protection and the professionalization of wildfire management are all driving up costs.
Fire seasons are growing longer in the United States and worldwide. According to the Forest Service, climate change has expanded the wildfire season by an average of 78 days per year since 1970. Agencies need to keep seasonal employees on their payrolls longer and have contractors standing by earlier and available to work later in the year. All of this adds to costs, even in low fire years.
In many parts of the wildfire-prone West, decades of fire suppression combined with historic logging patterns have created small, dense forest stands that are more vulnerable to large wildfires. In fact, many areas have fire deficits – significantly less fire than we would expect given current climatic and forest conditions. Fire suppression in these areas only delays the inevitable. When fires do get away from firefighters, they are more severe because of the accumulation of small trees and brush.
Protecting both communities and forests
In recent decades, development has pushed into areas with fire-prone ecosystems – the wildland-urban interface. In response, the Forest Service has shifted its priorities from protecting timber resources to trying to prevent fire from reaching houses and other physical infrastructure.
Fires near communities are fraught with political pressure and complex interactions with state and local fire and public safety agencies. They create enormous pressure on the Forest Service to do whatever is possible to suppress fires, which can drive up costs. There is considerable pressure to use air tankers and helicopters, although these resources are expensive and only effective in a limited number of circumstances.
As it started to prioritize protecting communities in the late 1980s, the Forest Service also ended its policy of fully suppressing all wildfires. Now fires are managed using a multiplicity of objectives and tactics, ranging from full suppression to allowing fires to grow larger so long as they stay within desired ranges.
This shift requires more and better-trained personnel and more interagency coordination. It also means letting some fires grow bigger, which requires personnel to monitor the blazes even when they stay within acceptable limits. Moving away from full suppression and increasing prescribed fire is controversial, but many scientists believe it will produce long-term ecological, public safety and financial benefits.
Professionalizing wildfire response
As fire seasons lengthened and staffing for the national forest system declined, the Forest Service was less and less able to use national forest as a militia whose regular jobs could be set aside for brief periods for firefighting. Instead, it started to hire staff dedicated exclusively to wildfire management and use private-sector contractors for fire suppression.
There is little research on the costs of this transition, but hiring more dedicated professional fire staffers and a large contractor pool is probably more expensive than the Forest Service’s earlier model. However, as the agency’s workforce shrank by 20,000 between 1980 and the early 2010s and fire seasons expanded, it had little choice but to transform its fire organization.
Few opportunities for cost control
Many of these cost drivers are out of the Forest Service’s hands. The agency may be able to have some impact on fire behavior in certain settings, with techniques such as hazardous fuels reduction and prescribed fire, but these strategies will further increase costs in the short and medium term.
Another option is rethinking the resources for wildfire response. While there are almost certainly savings to be had, capturing these savings will require changes in how society views wildfire, and political courage on the part of the Forest Service to not use expensive resources on high-profile wildfires when they may not be effective.
Even if these approaches work, they will likely only slow the rate of increase in costs. Climate change, the fire deficit on many western lands and development in the wildland-urban interface ensure that continued cost increases are baked into the system for decades to come.
Wildfire fighting costs now consume more than half of the agency’s budget, reducing funds for national forest management, research and development, and support for state and private forestry. Even if it doesn’t lower costs, the fire funding fix is vital because it will help create space in the Forest Service budget to fund the very activities that are needed to address the growing problem of wildfire.
The NHS England reported that during the July 2018 heatwave a total of 2.176 million people visited a hospital A&E unit, walk-in centre, or urgent treatment centre putting emergency departments under lots of pressure to cope with the influx of patients.
The latest NHS monthly performance figures show that July 2018 was exceptionally busy with 27.1% more patients admitted than in July 2017. It is believed that the heatwave led to an increase in admissions, mostly people with breathing conditions, like asthma, or people who had become dehydrated due to the heat.
The heatwave, however, is not solely to blame. Doctors spoke out to say that while the record temperatures were a key factor in the surge of attendances, missed waiting time targets showed the NHS is understaffed and underfunded. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the figures showed the health service was “running at boiling point all year round.”
Speaking to The Guardian, Dr Taj Hassan, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E doctors, said “The recent heatwave will have had an impact, but this should not be used to excuse inappropriate resourcing. It should also not come as a surprise that whatever the weather conditions, working in a continually under-resourced and declining system has consequences – all of which are detrimental to our patients.”
He also pointed out that wards and waiting rooms had gotten unbearably hot during the heatwave making longer waiting times hard to cope with and adding to the pressure on staff to deliver safe and effective care.
NHS England made a statement saying that “thanks to hard work of staff 9 in 10 people were seen, treated and admitted or discharged within four hours.”
However, if this summer is a taste of what is to come, it is clear the UK health system will need take decisive measures to adapt to a changing climate. Excessive heat can be detrimental to human health and as temperatures start to rise, so will the number of people who require medical care.
The NHS will have to provide enough resources and staffing in order to cope with the increased demand, especially in summer. Additionally, NHS facilities will need upgrading so that people who come in with heat-related illnesses don’t have to wait in unbearable heat to be seen.
The UK government published its updated strategy for tackling the impacts of climate change, including higher temperatures, drought and flooding.
The 128-page plan is the second iteration of the UK’s National Adaptation Programme (NAP), which sets out the the government’s approach to dealing with current and future climate change. The first NAP was published in 2013; the new version covers 2018 to 2023.
Adaptation aims to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change that are inevitable due to past and current greenhouse gas emissions. Adaptation policy in the UK is a devolved matter. Therefore, the adaptation plan mainly covers England, as well as some wider UK matters.
In a forward to the new plan, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, an environment minister, said it focuses on actions the government and others will undertake to “address the most urgent risks” and “make the country more resilient to climate change”.
But a second report, released today by MPs who sit on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), says the government is still not doing enough in one key area of adaptation: resilience to heatwaves. Released in a week where the UK is experiencing a severe heatwave, EAC’s report warns there will be 7,000 heat-related deaths every year in the UK by 2050 – triple the rate now – if the government does not take more action.
The EAC also published another report this week which is highly relevant to the new adaptation plan. On Tuesday, it delivered its verdict on the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, published in January 2018, which sets out policies to “help the natural world regain and retain good health”.
Tuesday’s EAC report expresses concerns the government is putting too much emphasis on “further consultations and long-term aspirational targets” for the environment, without supporting delivery plans. It recommends the government put the environment plan the plan into law.
In response to these three releases, Carbon Brief takes a look at the UK’s current plans to adapt to climate change – and examines where gaps may remain.
UK climate adaptation: the law
The UK’s legally binding 2008 Climate Change Act (CCA) obliges the government to set out policies to adapt to climate change, in addition to its more widely-known mitigation objectives, which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Adaptation policies are largely covered by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which is tasked with managing increasing risks in areas such as flooding, drought, heat, sea level rise and extreme weather. Mitigation policy, meanwhile, falls under the responsibility of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which last year released its “Clean Growth Strategy”, setting out policies aimed at cutting the UK’s emissions.
Under the adaptation section of the CCA, the government is required to publish a risk assessment of the current and predicted impact of climate change every five years. This is based in part on scientific advice given ahead of the risk assessment from the adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s official climate advisors.
The government is then required to lay out an adaptation plan “as soon as is reasonably practicable” setting out policies to address the identified risks. This is the 128-page plan that was published last Thursday.
The CCC’s risk assessment, published in July 2016, emphasised that “the impacts of climate change are already being felt in the UK” and highlighted the six current “most urgent” risks.
In short, they are: flooding, heat, drought, natural capital risks, food and pests.
These are highlighted in the CCC’s graphic below. The yellow-to -ed scale shows the relative urgency of each of these risks now and in the future.
The CCC also gave a series of recommendations to the government on adaptation.
It should set “clear priorities”, the CCC said, with a “core set of priorities and actions that would have the biggest impact”. It also needs to “ensure outcomes are “outcome-focussed, measurable, time-bound and have clear ownership”, as well as include “effective monitoring and evaluation”.
The government says it has sought to follow this advice. A full verdict on this will come from the CCC next year. However, initial responses from the CCC were not entirely positive.
Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC, said the plan “looks to have made some headway” on some of the CCC’s six key concerns. However, “it appears that there are gaps”, he says, citing overheating, risks to the UK from climate change overseas and affordability of flood insurance as examples. He adds:
“Urgent risks we have previously highlighted are not addressed, so we will press the government to go further to ensure there is a comprehensive plan to improve the UK’s resilience to the effects of climate change.”
Likewise, Kathryn Brown, head of adaptation at the CCC, wrote in a blog post last week that the new plan does not appear to tackle the key climate-related risks facing the UK.
“[T]his looks like only a partial plan,” she wrote. “In my view…on its own, [it] isn’t meeting the goals the government has set itself.” She added:
“The latest programme includes a set of objectives, actions and owners, but it fails to go any further [than the first NAP] when it comes to setting priorities.
“Nor does it set measurable success criteria with timescales; and apart from a column on monitoring and metrics, there is an absence of discussion on monitoring and evaluation, which is even weaker than the first NAP.”
Brown also said that 27 of the 56 risks and opportunities identified by the CCC are missing from the list of actions given in the adaptation plan. Those missing include 16 “urgent risks”, she says.
Others also critiqued the lack of concrete targets. Heather Jones, policy adviser at Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), tells Carbon Brief she considers the plan “another missed opportunity” to implement a strategic programme for adaptation.
“It’s another long list of disassociated actions, which are either already in train, or their outcome is not controlled by Defra, which has overall responsibility for production and delivery of the NAP. The targets are also mostly not measurable and, therefore, it will be very difficult to assess progress against them.”
However, some of the plan’s new initiatives were praised, such as a request for some financial regulators to report on climate adaptation. The plan “invites” the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Financial Reporting Council (FRC) and The Pensions Regulator to produce reports on how they are incorporating climate impacts into their statutory duties and powers.
The adaptation fell short, though, of suggesting mandatory reporting of exposure to climate change risks for large companies and pension funds, as recommended by another recent EAC report and the CCC. The government considers a voluntary reporting process the “most constructive and collaborative approach” for engagement, the plan says.
Considering the current heatwave – and increasingfocus on its links to climate change – the first question people may ask about the new adaptation plan is how it plans to increase UK’s resilience to heatwaves.
In its 2016 risk assessment, the CCC identified exposure to high temperatures and heatwaves as one of the greatest climate change threats to the UK.
It said the average number of hot days per year has been increasing since the 1960s. Heatwaves like the one in 2003, which led to more than 2,000 excess deaths, are “expected to become the norm in summer by the 2040s”, the CCC added.
Meanwhile, the number of vulnerable people at risk is rising due to the UK’s growing and ageing population. “In combination this means the number of premature heat-related deaths is expected to more than triple by the 2050s,” the CCC said. It estimates that currently 2,000 people die prematurely each year in the UK from heat-related conditions.
The CCC also said that tackling the effects of overheating buildings is a particularly important part of policy to address heatwaves. Delayed policies to ensure buildings are operable in high temperatures will “increase risks and lead to longer-term well-being impacts”.
This is how the government introduces the topic in the new adaptation plan published last week:
“We want to ensure that homes and other buildings are well-insulated for winter, while not overheating in the summer. Achieving this aim is likely to require a number of actions, including changes in construction practices, in occupier behaviour and in greater use of green spaces, including historic parks and gardens, whose role in reducing overheating in urban environments is well documented.”
In the adaptation plan, the government points to the recently updated Heatwave Plan for England, published by Public Health England, which sets out guidance for how the NHS, local authorities and other professionals can reduce the health risks from exposure to heat.
It also highlights strategies already underway in public services. The NHS, for example, already plans to embed adaptation into daily practice by 2023 and has included adaptation as a core part of its mandatory sustainable development management plans (SDMPs) for clinics.
But speaking to BBC Newsnight this week, the CCC’s Kathryn Brown said better adaptation of the UK’s buildings for these hotter temperatures – particularly in homes, schools, hospitals and care homes – is “not happening”.
According to the adaptation plan, the housing ministry has commissioned research to better understand the risk of overheating in new homes. This is due to be completed in the summer of 2018 and “will help to inform any future policy on including climate adaptation in new homes to reduce overheating”, the plan says.
But the EAC report on heatwaves published today says that government ministers who were interviewed by the committee of MPs appeared unclear about whether building regulations should address the health aspects of overheating. This is despite a fifth of the UK’s homes already overheating at current temperatures, the EAC says.
(Incidentally, “chronic overheating” during the summer was one of the reasons why the ill-fated combustible cladding was added to Grenfell Tower before the fatal fire last year.)
The EAC report says the government is also failing to communicate how the risks from heat are increasing. This is especially concerning since the public’s opinion, in general, is that heatwaves have not increased over their lifetimes, the report says. Mary Creagh, chair of the EAC, says in a statement released today:
“The government needs to do more to warn the public of the health risks of heatwaves, particularly when they fall outside of the summer period, and should appoint a minister to lead work across government.”
She argues that the new adaptation plan promises “no effective action” to prevent overheating in buildings.
The Brown is also critical of the plan for failing to present actions to reduce the risks to people from overheating in homes. “[This] was one of the highest priority risks identified in the CCRA,” she wrote on her blog.
Brown told Climate Home News that “there needs to be an industry standard, regulation on new builds”. The government argument that it is waiting for the completion of the housing ministry report is “not a commitment,” she added. In a further statement on heatwaves, released yesterday in response to this week’s extreme temperatures, she outlined further action needed to cool homes:
“[N]ew build properties need shading and improved ventilation, as do hospitals. And we need to reverse the decline in urban green spaces that occurred between 2001 and 2016. We will be monitoring progress and reporting our findings to parliament over the coming year.”
Water shortage was another key climate change threat identified by the CCC in 2016. Its risk assessment noted that:
“Climate change is projected to reduce the amount of water in the environment that can be sustainably withdrawn whilst increasing the demand for irrigation during the driest months. At the same time the growing population will create additional demands on already stretched resources in some parts of the country.”
There is still high uncertainty over how climate change will affect seasonal rainfall projections in the UK, as well as the impact on the frequency and intensity of water shortages and drought, the CCC said in its risk assessment. However, it added that there was still an “urgent need” for longer-term water resource planning and further steps to achieve the ambitious reductions in water demand and leakage that are “likely to be required”.
In her statement on heatwaves yesterday, the CCC’s Kathryn Brown also highlighted her concern over water shortages. She said:
“[W]e can expect greater water deficits across the country, including in cooler wetter areas like the north-west of England. The area of land well suited to the production of water-intensive crops, such as rain-fed potatoes, could decline by over 80% by the 2050s.”
The government’s new adaptation plan recognises the risks of shortages in water supply for agriculture, energy generation and industry. It promises to increase water supply, incentivise greater water efficiency and “maintain a plentiful supply”, as demand increases and climate change impacts availability.
The plan also says government will work to “restore natural processes” in rivers to buffer against drought and help wildlife, and work towards setting “challenging and ambitious goals” to reduce water leakage.
The plan lays out a goal to increase the proportion of water bodies with enough water to “support environmental standards” to 90% for surface water and 77% for groundwater by 2021. But, beyond this, there is little in the way of specifics regarding monitoring and metrics.
However, the EAC heatwaves report released today criticises progress so far on water shortages. The government has “weakened its water efficiency ambitions”, it says, as well as overlooked industry requests to make per capita consumption limits more efficient for new builds. The report adds:
“A water-saving culture needs to be embedded to ensure that people understand the strain heatwaves place on the water supply and to make more water is available during a heatwave.”
In the middle of a summer heatwave, the problem of flooding may seem distant.
However, tackling flooding has still been in the news, after Michael Gove, the environment secretary, released a pair of Eurasian beavers into Gloucestershire’s Forest of Dean as part of a reintroduction scheme which Defra hopes could also reduce local flood risk.
(Carbon Brief last year mapped the government’s current distribution of funding for flood protection in England).
Flooding and coastal change risks were another key climate risk outlined in the CCC’s 2016 risk assessment. Flood damages are already high in the UK, averaging an estimated £1bn per year, the CCC said, and are expected to increase due to climate change. Current levels of adaptation are projected to be “insufficient” to avoid the increased damages from further warming, the report said.
Additional adaptation may be able to counter the increase in flood damages anticipated with 2C of global warming, the report added, at least in some parts of the UK. But, in other parts, it added that increasing flood risks appear inevitable, especially with 4C or more of global warming.
The government’s new adaptation plan acknowledges that climate change is likely to increase flood risk in England, with the resulting impacts this could have on infrastructure such as transport, telecommunications, businesses and public services.
However, its “actions log” is, again, relatively short of clear monitoring targets. The plan says the government will update its flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy by 2019 and also publish a statement setting out its “future expectations for managing flood risk and coastal erosion” in the winter of 2018.
The CCC’s Kathryn Brown noted in her blog that actions to manage the transition period ahead of the withdrawal of the Flood Re scheme is a key gap in the adaptation plan. The scheme, which helps people living in flood risk areas to get affordable home insurance, will end in 2039. The scheme has warned that action is needed beyond this to ensure premiums and excesses remain affordable for the majority of households.
During the recent bought of wildfires in the UK, including a three-week long blaze in Saddleworth Moor, the government faced calls to need to re-examine its capacity to deal with similar fires in future. Scientists have warned that Northern Europe should expect more such fires as extreme weather events become more common due to climate change.
It’s worth noting that it is only relatively recently that wildfire has even been recognised as a significant hazard in the UK: it was only included in the UK’s National Risk Register in 2013. The most recent version of this register says:
“Climate change is likely to lead to changes in the rainfall patterns that affect the UK. If we experience longer drier summers, this will increase the risk of drought and could lead to more frequent, larger wildfires.”
The CCC’s 2016 risk assessment also said climate change is projected to increase the risks of wildfires. However, it only advised the government to “continue current efforts” to manage and respond to wildfires.
The adaptation plan does just this. It promises to provide wildfire prevention training to fire services and land managers, to develop a “forestland wildfire risk and fuel map”, and to improve wildfire prediction systems.
Food and soil
Soil aridity was one of several areas of the UK’s “natural capital” highlighted by the CCC in its risk assessment as needing more “action”. The CCC warned that the proportion of agricultural land in England and Wales classed as “best and most versatile” is projected to decline from 38% to 9% by the 2050s under a high climate change scenario.
The CCC said more action was needed to “reduce existing pressures on soils, increase uptake of soil conservation measures and restore degraded soils”.
The 25-year environment plan said that the government wants “all of England’s soils to be managed sustainably” by 2030 and outlined plans to developing a “soil health index”. It also said Defra would “invest at least £200,000 to help create meaningful metrics that will allow us to assess soil improvements”.
The adaptation plan appears to contain little in addition to these previous announcements and no clearer targets. It also reiterates an environment-plan promise to publish an “England peat strategy” in late 2018.
Food security was another key area highlighted by the CCC risk assessment – although the government disagreed with the CCC’s severity of risk in some areas of food. The adaptation plan promises to “ensure a food supply chain which is resilient to the effects of a changing climate”.
It also pledges to publish an updated UK food security assessment by the end of 2019. The last of these assessments, which cover the UK’s food supply (domestic and imported), was published in 2009.
Kathryn Brown says in her blog that, despite the CCC highlighting the risks to the UK from climate change impacts abroad, this update is the only action in the adaptation plan directed at managing these risks.
The new adaptation plan includes 13 of the goals set out in the 25-year environment plan, also published by Defra.
For example, in its section on how to build ecological resilience and protect wildlife at particular risk from climate change, it refers to environment-plan goals to create or restore 500,000 extra hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2042.
The environment plan was welcomed at the time of its release for setting out a long-term environmental strategy, but was also criticised for being too vague on objectives and lacking direction on enforcement of environmental policy.
The EAC report on the 25-year plan released on Tuesday also welcomes its ambition for the restoration and recovery of the natural environment. However, it echoes concerns that the plan lacks details of how it will achieve its objectives.
It calls for the UK to implement a body of new legislation on the environment, via a new Environmental Governance and Principles Act.
This EAC says this should include a replacement of the third of EU environmental legislation that cannot be copied and pasted into UK law post-Brexit, as well as establish the principle in UK law that environmental protection will be ensured. A new “Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office” should also be created to measure progress and enforce the new law, it adds.
The government has already announced plans for a new statutory environmental watchdog to be established after Brexit, although this will lack power to prosecute the government. The exclusion of climate change from the proposed watchdog has also caused concern.
The CCC has backed this decision, arguing that including climate change would duplicate their statutory role in scrutinising climate policy. However, Baroness Brown (not Kathryn Brown), who is chair of the CCC’s sub-committee on adaptation, also told the EAC that the new body should have the ability to consider climate change as part of an assessment of the environment plan.
The CCC will assess the government’s new adaptation plan fully in its next progress report, due to be released in June 2019. The CCC evaluates UK adaptation policy every two years, with the 2017 progress report the last to cover adaptation.
Scotland’s second five-year adaptation programme is due to be published in 2019, following its first in 2014.
Wales’s new adaptation plan is due later this year. (The Welsh government also recently announced a £56m programme to improve flood and coastal defences over the next year.)
Northern Ireland also has an adaptation programme, published in 2014, but it still needs to respond to the relevant parts of the UK’s 2017 risk assessment.
Also due later in 2018 is a major upgrade to the UK’s official climate projections (known as “UKCP18”). These will be based on “improved climate models and up-to-date observational records”. The projections were last updated in 2009, so there could be significant changes.
This could have knock on effects on future adaptation policy, as they will inform the government’s third and fourth climate change risk assessments, due in 2022 and 2027, and subsequent adaptation plans.
Cover image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): As this year’s heatwave continues, the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission reveals once again how the colour of our vegetation has changed in just one month. These two images cover the same area: part of Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, part of Germany and part of France, but the difference between them couldn’t be more striking. The first, captured on 28 June 2018, is predominantly green, depicting healthy vegetation. The second, captured on 25 July 2018, however, is mainly brown, showing just how much the vegetation has changed owing to the long hot dry spell Europe has been enduring over the last weeks. Source: http://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2018/07/From_green_to_brown_in_a_month
Abu Dhabi, UAE –The Global Adaptation Network held its 2nd Forum last March. Convened in UAE, the event brought to light various issues in adaptation and constituted the first event to contribute to the Talanoa Dialogue, an ongoing global discourse on climate change. Since then, the Forum has been feeding into climate policy on a global scale, and last month, the UNFCCC’s Bonn Climate Conference used findings from the event to enrich its own discussions and negotiations.
GAN’s Forum was held in collaboration with Zayed University and the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. Bringing together high-level Ministers and over 120 adaptation experts, the Forum presented cutting-edge solutions for building resilience. It covered a set of salient themes, including state-of-the-art adaptation technologies, procedures for measuring adaptation progress, and methods for spreading knowledge. A recurring cross-cutting theme was the role of the private sector in building resilience.
It was previously decided that GAN’s Forum, with all its outcomes and perspectives, would provide the next chapter of the Talanoa Dialogue. ‘Talanoa’ is a traditional word used across Fiji and the Pacific to signify a discourse of openness, trust and inclusivity. The purpose of the Dialogue is to advance international cooperation on climate change through the sharing of ideas, skills, and storytelling. As such, the Forum was privileged to host, as a keynote speaker, Fiji’s High-Level Climate Champion, the Honorable Minister Inia Seruiratu.
In keeping with the principle of inclusivity, one of the predominant themes of the Forum was how to reach those most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Participants sought to analyse the role of insurance in helping the poor to absorb climate shocks. More specifically, there was keen interest in the possibility of establishing an African learning platform for climate risk insurance.
The question of how to quantify different aspects of adaptation is of increasing importance, and the Forum devoted its efforts to explore these challenges. How do we measure our progress? How do we calculate climate risk? Taking a finance approach, the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation pointed to data from the Adaptation Gap report. They urged that, under the most conservative estimates, global investment in adaptation will need to increase by at least 438% by 2050.
“This is what makes Forums such as this so important – bringing together experts… from different sectors and organisations to not only share your knowledge and progress, but to also develop linkages between your sectors.” – Fiji Minister Inia Seruiratu
Another integral topic of GAN’s Forum was adaptation learning and knowledge-exchanges. Sessions demonstrated how scientific information is communicated between countries in the interests of building resilience, drawing on experiences from Japan, Mongolia and the Philippines. In addition, there was a focus on the role of universities in solving adaptation challenges. Jessica Barlow outlined the efficacious EPIC model, which connects universities and their resources to real-word issues faced by local cities. Jessica Hitt from EcoAdapt presented her ongoing work with the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE), currently the world’s largest and most used source of adaptation case studies.
The UNFCCC are among many who are advocating for more progress with engaging the private sector in adaptation. GAN took the opportunity to use this as a cross-cutting theme of the Forum. John Firth, CEO of the adaptation company Acclimatise, gave a persuasive talk on how to involve businesses. Firth explained that the private sector has always excelled in risk management, and adaptation specialists must configure a way to uptake this expertise.
“The climate change community has tended to see adaptation and resilience as a public sector issue… The reality is that the services we consume, and what we need to build resilience, are actually produced by the private sector.” – John Firth, CEO of Acclimatise
Pertinent to the Forum’s location in Abu Dhabi, the event also took stock of the pioneering adaptation technologies being developed in the Gulf region. Novel projects were displayed by Zayed University, including selective-breeding to produce genetically resilient coral species. The Forum concluded with a visit to Masdar City, a planned project in Abu Dhabi set to house some of the world’s major cleantech organizations, including the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Newtok, a small Alaskan village on the shores of the Ningliq River, has been fighting erosion exacerbated by climate change for decades. Now, they have secured $15 million to begin relocating houses to higher ground.
The people of Newtok have been trying to relocate since 1994 with little to no success. In recent years, the effects of climate change have made the village’s situation increasingly urgent and dire. Currently, the river is creeping 70 feet closer every year.
In its efforts to secure funding, Newtok’s main problem was that no federal agency seemed to be responsible for the somewhat unusual predicament creating a barrier to access funding. From federal disaster relief funds to the Department of Housing and Development – no one seemed to cover the particular needs of Newtok.
Earlier this year, the Alaska Denali Commission, an independent federal agency designed to provide critical utilities, infrastructure and economic support throughout Alaska, saw its fairly tiny budget doubled to $30 million as part of the $1.3 trillion spending bill signed in late March.
Half of the allocated budget will be spent on Newtok’s relocation. However, $15 million only cover a fraction of the necessary funds. In a 2006 report, the US Army Corps of Engineers calculated Newtok would need between $80-130 million to relocate and had about 10-15 years left to do so.
Twelve years later, the allocated budget is at least a start and the Denali Commission is ready to get to work. They want to have “as many occupiable housing units as possible in place by October 1, 2019.”
A further smaller grant of $1.7 million was also announced; it is funded by both the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The grant comes as part of FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program which is reserved for “traditional” disasters but the urgency of Newtok’s situation made it necessary to provide funds.
To learn more about the history of Newtok, click here.
Four South Asian countries (India, Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan) have successfully applied a new governance framework called “Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change within Governance Systems in South Asia” that allows governments to integrate climate change adaptation into governance systems, policies and plans.
Developed, and launched by a group of national and international climate change experts between 2016-2018, the framework identifies barriers and opportunities for climate adaptation mainstreaming and has already helped 10 national and sub-national governments change their investment, planning and policy processes to account for climate change.
One of the authors of the framework explains:
“Adapting to climate change could cost up to US$ 500 billion per year by mid-century. A sizeable amount of money will necessarily come from government budgets, as investments are made in new infrastructure and other development. Governments, therefore have significant power to drive action on climate adaptation. To do this successfully they must integrate climate adaptation across their own programmes leveraging spending across departments to deliver climate resilience. The framework helps governments do just that.” With the help of this new framework, practitioners and policy makers will be able to understand how to mainstream adaptation within governance systems by focusing on three aspects:
Entry points: Opportunities for integrating climate considerations into the planning and policy process.
Enabling environment: The characteristics – people, institutions, resources etc – that help support the successful adoption of climate change adaptation policies and practices.
Political economy drivers: The factors that influence and affect the enabling environment such as the interests and incentives facing different groups as well as formal and informal social, political and cultural norms.
Mainstreaming adaptation to climate change within development policy or planning involves governance at multiple levels, which is why ACT is working at the national and subnational levels across South Asia. The lessons from ACT’s work will be of interest for similar projects and programmes in the region and beyond.
The full ACT learning paper “Mainstreaming adaptation to climate change within governance systems in South Asia: An analytical framework and examples from practice” and a learning brief can be accessed here.
In September 2017, the Atlantic basin was ensnared in one of the most active hurricane seasons of all time. With wind speeds of 185 miles per hour, Irma was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic. This one storm produced as much cyclone energy as is considered “normal” for an entire Atlantic hurricane season.
And it was not alone.
Irma ravaged the Caribbean Islands just one week after Hurricane Harvey hit the southeastern United States. Hurricanes José, Katia, and Maria followed, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake with more to come. By some estimates, the damage of Harvey and Maria alone totaled US$215 billion.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the climate disasters of 2017 were not limited to the North Atlantic. Heavy downpours in Western Africa and an abnormally strong monsoon season in India and Bangladesh killed thousands of people and destroyed infrastructure and economies. Likewise, heavy rains caused floods, landslides and deaths in Peru, Columbia, Sri Lanka, China, and elsewhere.
With the increasing regularity of climate disasters — and with related costs quadrupling in the past 30 years — governments are beginning to prioritize disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
Many countries already promote risk management measures, like using hurricane-straps to prevent roofs from flying off, and building dykes to minimise tidal flooding and coastal storm surge. But while these measures can reduce part of the risk posed by extreme weather events, superstorms like Irma show they are not enough. Not all damage can be avoided. As such, we must look to solutions to cover the risks to which we cannot adapt.
Climate risk insurance offers one such solution.
Some Caribbean countries affected by Irma bought an insurance policy with CCRIF SPC (the former Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility). CCRIF announced on 7 September, the day the storm hit, that a payout of US $15.6 million would be made to the governments of Antigua & Barbuda, Anguilla and St. Kitts & Nevis to cover damages. The payouts were to be made not more than 14 days after the storm hit — as mandated by CCRIF’s guidelines.
While these payouts are not nearly enough to cover all storm reparations, the example still illustrates that tailored insurance coverage can provide much-needed funds, and quickly. The payout mechanism is triggered by objective catastrophe models (data from the National Hurricane Center in this case), which avoids delays caused by uncoordinated responses in the aftermath of many major catastrophes.
Studies show that economies with high (private) insurance coverage bounce back quicker to pre-disaster development once hit by earthquakes, storms or floods.
But before we look to climate insurance as a panacea for disaster recovery, we must understand its strengths, and its limitations. Research from the United Nations University finds that while climate insurance offers a compelling solution to increased climate disasters, three things must be considered in its implementation.
First, events like Irma help gauge our preparedness for superstorms and help us better understand who is the most affected by them. Research shows that poor people are the most exposed to — and least protected from — climate risks, and affordable risk-based insurance premiums remain a major challenge. To make insurance an affordable solution, the product can be subsidized by governments or other donors. Regional risk pools can also protect the poorest and most vulnerable. Those who still struggle to afford a premium could pay for coverage through an insurance for assets scheme, where they would be awarded a premium in exchange for taking part in risk reduction activities, like building flood defenses in their own communities. Bottom line, climate insurance schemes must be designed to meet the needs of all socio-economic classes.
Second, climate insurance schemes must be tailored to local needs and conditions, both in terms of the potential types of climatic risks, and the needs and economic abilities of potential clients. With the local context in mind, a properly designed scheme can give incentives for risk reduction by rewarding clients for taking positive action. Higher premiums can discourage people from living in areas that are at heightened risk of flooding or landslides, or encourage them to take preventive measures, reducing their levels of vulnerability over the long term.
Third, climate insurance is not a stand-alone solution. It can only reach its full potential if complemented by other risk management measures and integrated into a wider risk management framework including risk reduction and preparation. The key is to reduce and avoid as much risk as possible first, then use insurance to cover only what cannot be prevented or adapted to.
Climate change is set to intensify and drive an increase in all categories of meteorological hazards — storms, droughts and floods. The 2017 hurricane season was a strong reminder that governments, businesses and individuals must boost their preventative risk management activities, while also designing climate insurance approaches for protection when nature’s harm cannot be avoided. Together, these measures will give us the best chance to adapt to, and survive, a future of superstorms.
For most Americans, the one-two punch of last fall’s hurricanes is ancient history. But hard-hit communities in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean are still rebuilding.
I recently traveled with public health students from the University of Washington to southeast Texas, where the impacts of Hurricane Harvey last August are still felt today. With support from the Natural Hazards Center’s Quick Response Grant Program, we wanted to understand how disaster recovery strategies can create long-term opportunities to promote healthy communities.
Through interviews with local health officials, we learned how Hurricane Harvey is still affecting many residents. As we often see during natural disasters, Harvey amplified pre-existing health and social stresses and inequities.
For example, greater Houston had only a paltry pre-storm supply of affordable housing. Now buyers and renters are competing to secure undamaged units. We heard about families who were living in homes with toxic mold because they couldn’t afford to leave, and concerns that rising prices would drive people out on the street or force them to move to other cities and states. However, we also saw signs that communities were using Hurricane Harvey to springboard efforts to address persistent housing problems.
The default response after a major disaster is often to rebuild as quickly as possible. This typically means replicating what existed before the storm. But why not build back in a way that corrects long-standing problems?
Major disasters like Hurricane Harvey often bring influxes of resources and attention to communities that are struggling with health and social challenges. In a 2015 report, the Institute of Medicine found that many communities fail to fully leverage recovery resources to address pre-existing issues, such as access to health care.
The report urged communities to consider short- and long-term health impacts of their recovery decisions, known as a “health in all policies” approach to recovery. This approach recognizes that health is connected to many other issues, including transportation, social networks and housing. By thinking about the health impacts of recovery strategies, municipal leaders can rebuild in a way that promotes stronger and more resilient communities.
For example, co-locating mental health professionals at sites where people are signing up for FEMA aid can help more residents get counseling and support. In the long term, decisions about land use in badly damaged neighborhoods can create spaces where people can exercise and socialize, which helps them to lead healthier and happier lives.
Leveraging local expertise to build back better
The idea of incorporating health in all policies may sound sensible, but putting it into action after a hurricane, wildfire or tornado strike is easier said than done. As a former emergency manager in Baltimore, I know that working conditions after disasters are fast-paced and often chaotic. Communities are under political and social pressure to recover quickly, and health may not be at the top of their agendas.
Advance planning for recovery is important. And involving people who understand challenges to community health and well-being is essential. Local health departments, as well as community- and faith-based organizations, are often connected to at-risk populations. Involving these organizations in recovery planning and implementation can inform an approach that promotes community health and well-being. For example, they can identify opportunities to use recovery resources to meet pre-existing housing needs, or direct case management services to families that are already struggling.
During our trip to Texas we saw that pre-disaster recovery planning was paying off. As an example, Fort Bend Recovers was established in Fort Bend County, which covers 885 square miles in the Houston metro area, after major flooding on Memorial Day in 2016.
In Harvey’s wake, plans developed by Fort Bend Recovers created a process for organizations, including local health and social services agencies, to rapidly reconvene to respond to community needs. Together they offered case management services, staffed mental health support lines, and convened emotional support groups. Such services can help individuals affected by the floods find housing and supplies, but also connect them with solutions for longer-term problems, such as finding affordable medical care.
Hurricane season 2018 is coming
In order to truly “build back better,” states and communities need to develop a plan for recovery in advance of the next disaster. Galveston County, on Texas’ Gulf Coast, is using its Hurricane Harvey recovery experience to formalize a Long Term Recovery Group that brings together the local health department and other community- and faith-based organizations to address community health needs. But we also heard about other communities that still don’t have a plan or mechanism for organizing recovery.
With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Connections Program, my research team is now reviewing state disaster recovery plans nationwide. We plan to identify whether and how states use the disaster recovery period to build back better. We hope to highlight recovery strategies that promote equitable access to affordable and safe housing, health care, and places and spaces that encourage healthy activity and foster social connections.
As climate change amplifies storms, floods and other extreme weather events, U.S. communities can expect more frequent and severe natural disasters in the years to come. By recognizing and planning for opportunities to build back better, they can make themselves more resilient against the next disaster.
Some estimates suggest that US$ 500 billion will be needed for adaptation by 2050, and public finances will form a crucial part of that picture. To ensure this, a new framework that helps governments mainstream spending on climate adaptation into domestic budgets, has been successfully implemented in four South Asian countries. The Financing Framework for Resilient Growth (FFRG) can help countries around the world improve how they fund climate resilience building through public finance.
International climate finance mechanisms have so far fallen short of delivering the necessary resources to tackle climate change and are unlikely to deliver all that is needed in the near future as well. This is especially true of adaptation finance, which remains severely underfunded putting many people and critical infrastructure at risk. To successfully prepare for climate change, governments will have to mobilise their own fiscal resources and go beyond donor funding to reach their development goals.
The Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme has devised and tested this framework that enables governments to integrate climate change adaptation and resilience into their plans, policies, and budgets at the national and subnational level. The FFRG provides a way to estimate the economic cost of climate change damages, quantify current expenditure on adaptation, and track it through departmental budgets. For example, in Bihar, India, ACT reviewed 787 budget lines which are relevant for climate change and used the FFRG to estimate that $145 million worth of the total ‘benefits’ from this expenditure are tackling the impacts of climate change through enabling adaptation. This provides an effective baseline against which to measure an increase in funding year on year or hold the government to account should expenditure dip.
The framework also allows governments to calculate the gap between current levels of funding and those required to prevent climate-related loss and damage. The framework is a useful tool for governments to identify priority areas of spending and plan effectiveness strategies to finance climate adaptation.
Listen to the 60-second abstract about the report:
The full ACT learning paper “Mainstreaming, accessing and institutionalising finance for climate change adaptation” and an insight note based on the Framework for Resilient Growth methodology can be can be accessed here.
ACT (Action on Climate Today) is an initiative funded with UK aid from the UK government and managed by Oxford Policy Management.
Cover photo by Diganta Talukdar/Flickr (CC BY 2.0): Woman plucking tea leaves in Amluckee Tea Estate in Amoni in Nagaon district.