In a recent evaluation of the 2013 European Adaptation Strategy the European Commission (EC) asserted that adapting the regions and economic sectors of the European Union (EU) to the impacts of climate change is now more urgent than was forecasted in 2013.
The finding was shared in a report on the implementation of the adaptation strategy and lessons learned, published on 12 November. The recently released IPCC report about the impacts of 1.5 °C versus 2.0 °C global warming added even more urgency to the EC’s findings.
“The need to adapt remains and it has actually grown, as impacts of past emissions unfold through heatwaves, storms, forest fires at high latitudes or destructive floods.”
Miguel Arias Cañete, DG CLIMA
Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete said: “Our collective work on adaptation has shown we not only know more but can also do more to prevent the worst climate impacts projected by 2050. The need to adapt remains and it has actually grown, as impacts of past emissions unfold through heatwaves, storms, forest fires at high latitudes or destructive floods. This evaluation provides a credible basis for the EU policy on adaptation to explore new directions, improvements and also alignment with international developments since 2013.”
The EC’s evaluation showed that the adaptation strategy had delivered on its objectives to promote action by Member States, ‘climate-proof’ action at EU level and support better-informed decision-making. However, it is very clear that Europe is still vulnerable to climate impacts and more work needs to be done in order to build resilience. The findings will undoubtedly provide food for thought for the upcoming UN climate change conference COP24.
Some of the key findings of the evaluation are:
The current adaptation strategy is still relevant, and the Commission will be guided by its objectives.
Major infrastructure projects financed by the EU budget have become climate-proof and will withstand sea level rise, flooding or intense heat.
In the future, an effort must be made to ensure most, or all, EU cities have a thorough adaptation plan to protect citizens from both extreme and slow-onset climate hazards. The plans should also cater for specific vulnerabilities of certain communities (e.g. the EU’s Outermost Regions) and the different risks faced by the very diverse regions in the European continent.
The contribution of the private sector to enhance society’s resilience must be encouraged: the Commission’s efforts will continue to be channelled through its Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth and the subsequent legislative proposals adopted in 2018.
Climate services for specific adaptation needs should develop into business opportunities, based on reliable and standardised data and the incentives provided by Copernicus and other European Earth observation initiatives.
Institutions face many challenges in dealing with the complexity of climate change: Its urgency, its cross-cutting nature, how it interacts with other societal challenges such as social inequality, and how it can stymie existing development efforts. Even translating climate science into actionable information can be challenging. The capacity constraints that exist to respond to these challenges, particularly in the institutions of developing countries, are well documented.
The urgent need for governments to build resilience has frequently led to a reliance on short-term and ad-hoc efforts to boost capacity. International organisations are often ‘parachuted’ into developing countries to provide one-off training sessions and workshops. Such support has yielded limited impact and is often unsustainable. In such situations local institutional capacity to deal with climate change remains constrained.
There is a recognition globally, on the need for more and better approaches to support the strengthening of institutions. The 2015 Paris Agreement enshrines a commitment to building long-term, in-country capacity to address climate change. The Agreement also states that capacity building must operate through appropriate institutional arrangements and be an iterative process that is participatory, cross-cutting, and gender-responsive.
The new ACT learning paper details how this capacity building goal can be achieved. It introduces and describes a new framework for strengthening institutional climate capabilities to guide stakeholders in designing, planning and delivering other development and adaptation programmes and initiatives. It provides a comprehensive picture of the changes required, involving individuals, organisations, and the wider processes, resources, norms, and values governing institutions. The framework was developed using ACT’s experience in building institutional capacity, and is also informed by wider empirical literature on governance, climate change, and capacity development.
ACT is a £23 million UK government-funded regional programme managed by Oxford Policy Management (OPM) in collaboration with many consortium partners. It works in partnership with national and sub-national governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan to assist the integration of climate adaptation into development policies and actions while transforming systems of planning and delivery, including leveraging additional finance. Institutional capacity building is therefore one of the main purposes of the programme.
The full ACT learning paper “Building institutional capacity for enhancing resilience to climate change: An operational framework and insights from practice” and a learning brief can be accessed by clicking here.
Listen to the abstract:
ACT (Action on Climate Today) is an initiative funded with UK aid from the UK government and managed by Oxford Policy Management (OPM).
New policies are “urgently” needed to protect homes and landscapes from coastal flooding and erosion in the long term, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says.
These coastal risks will increase in the future due to climate change, the committee says in a new report to government. But long-term action can help to manage their impact, it adds.
The current approach to protecting the coastline in England “really isn’t fit for purpose”, Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC, tells Carbon Brief. “We’re trying to encourage an honest conversation about that.”
England will “almost certainly” have to adapt to at least 1m of sea level rise at some point, the report says. Some model projections indicate that this will happen over the next 80 years – within the lifetime of young people alive today. [Sea levels are expected to rise 48cm by 2100 – if global temperature rise are kept to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels].
Rising sea levels will increase the frequency of the most damaging coastal floods, the CCC says, and increase rates of coastal erosion. It adds:
“Many of England’s coastal defences are likely to be at risk of failure as sea levels rise. For example, a sea level rise of 0.5m is projected to make a further 20% of England’s coastal defences vulnerable to failure.”
The CCC says these changes must be accounted for in long-term land-use and coastal defence plans. But the public are not clearly informed about current or future risks of coastal erosion and flooding, it says.
There is also a possibility of accelerated ice sheet melt – and, thus, higher sea level rise than 1m – in the absence of more mitigation on climate change, Professor Jim Hall, who leads on flooding and coastal erosion at the CCC, tells Carbon Brief. “What we’re talking about here very much has a global mitigation context,” he says.
Losses from coastal erosion and flooding are already being felt today, the CCC says, with damages amounting to an average £260m per year. There are 520,000 properties in England in areas at risk from coastal flooding and 8,900 properties are in areas at risk of being lost through coastal erosion, the CCC adds.
The CCC estimates the total value of assets at risk from coastal flooding to be around £120-150bn, though it says this is difficult to quantify.
By the 2080s,1.5m properties – including 1.2m homes – may be at risk of coastal flooding, it says, with a further 100,000 at risk from coastal erosion. Around 1,600km of road, 92 railways stations and 12 substations and nuclear power stations could be at risk from coastal erosion or flooding by 2100, the CCC adds.
[All of the UK’s operating nuclear power plants are on the coast; they are responsible for their own coastal defences and, according to Hall, they look a lot further into the future with respect to sea level rise than is typically done for coastal communities.]
The population at risk of coastal flooding could almost quadruple by 2080, according to the CCC’s earlier 2017 risk assessment, as shown in the chart below.
Other research has shown the damage from coastal flooding in the UK could be very high in the absence of upgrades to protection. One Nature Climate Change study found the UK could see up to €236bn in annual damages and 1.1 million people exposed to coastal flooding by 2100. It found the UK to be the worst hit European country by far, although others will also be severely affected.
The CCC notes that the risks of harmful coastal flooding and erosion “cannot be eliminated altogether”. However, stronger actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change could reduce the risk for 400,000-500,000 people in England by 2100, compared to a “baseline” level of climate adaptation, it adds.
Strategic responsibility for overseeing English coast rests with the government’s Environment Agency, Hall tells Carbon Brief. But local authorities also have some responsibility, in particular in areas of coastal erosion.
These two groups work together to develop local Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs), which identify responses to future coastal changes using a 100-year policy framework. They were first developed in the mid-1990s and revised between 2006 and 2011. The map below shows how they are split up into 22 separate areas.
But as they stand, these plans “cannot be relied” on to reduce the risks from coastal flooding and erosion, the CCC says. This is because they are not legally binding and contain unfunded proposals. Implementing current policies to protect England’s coast would cost £18-30bn in total, the CCC adds, depending on the rate of climate change.
Importantly, many of the unfunded coastline protection plans are far less “cost-effective” than the measures funded by government today. Hall says current plans for around 150 kilometres of coastline are not cost-beneficial to implement. This raises the need for honest conversations with those affected about “the difficult choices they face”, he says.
“There genuinely will be homes that it will not be possible to save,” said Baroness Brown, chair of the CCC’s adaptation sub-committee, at a briefing for journalists on the new report. “That’s why we need those discussions, that’s why people need information, so they can take rational decisions about the level of risk they are prepared to take.”
Shoreline Management Plans the core reason why the CCC’s concludes that England’s current approach to protecting the coastline “isn’t fit for purpose” says Stark. “They are non-statutory, they’re unfunded, and they give this kind of illusory protection,” he tells Carbon Brief.
Sustainable coastal adaptation is possible with long-term commitment and proactive steps by the government, Stark says.
The report sets out several ways forward, from simple acknowledgement and communication about changing coastal risks by the relevant authorities to the development of more rigorously implemented local plans. There is also a need for more evidence-based, quantified outcomes, the CCC says, since much of government policy fails to outline actions that can be assessed in terms of their impact on overall exposure or risk.
However, the government will also need to make long-term funding and investment available in the face of coastal risks, the CCC says, including to help affected communities cope with inevitable changes.
This funding needs to be based on a “broader and more inclusive economic case” than is current practice, the report adds, since areas where investment in hard defences is uneconomic tend to lose out. It says:
“[T]hese places also need funding to assist them to adapt to inevitable changes, so whilst hard defences may not be fundable they still need support for a broader package of adaptation actions, including community engagement, asset relocation and compensation to move households where appropriate.”
Across the United States, “repetitive loss properties” that have been damaged and rebuilt multiple times using federal flood insurance payouts have cost the government, and taxpayers, more than US$12.1 billion. And the challenge is growing. Rising seas due to climate change may inundate 400 to 1,100 U.S. coastal cities in this century, affecting some 4 to 13 million Americans.
Sometimes the surest way to keep people safe is to relocate them out of the floodplain, a process called managed or strategic retreat. But when I reviewed some of the largest retreat programs in the United States, I found that the process is much less straightforward or fair than it should be. I also found ways to improve it.
Thousands of buyouts over 25 years
Since 1993, FEMA has spent just over $4 billion to buy roughly 40,000 homes in 1,100 communities across 44 states. The buildings are demolished and the land is required to be maintained as open space, perhaps a park or a wetland to absorb future flood waters. Other federal agencies also fund buyouts.
New Jersey residents whose homes suffered major damage from Superstorm Sandy have diverse reactions to buyout offers in this 2014 report.
Working the system
Buyouts typically are offered after disasters, when people are deciding whether to rebuild severely damaged homes and businesses or relocate away from the floodplain. Local and state governments have the authority to offer buyouts, so residents who can organize in groups and engage government agencies have the best chance of obtaining purchase offers. Officials don’t want to make offers until they’re sure a group of residents is willing to sell. They want to buy up big sections of land that can be converted to parks or wetlands, rather than scattered lots that are hard to maintain.
Lack of transparency makes it hard for homeowners to make decisions about whether to wait for a buyout offer, or to trust the process. Even if they receive offers, it can take three to four years to finalize the purchase, which is longer than many people can afford to wait after losing their homes.
Similarly, buying out a $1 million home after a disaster makes less sense than buying 10 $100,000 homes. As a result, low-income areas are more likely to be targeted for managed retreat after disasters. These communities tend to have high numbers of minority residents, due to past discriminatory policies and historic inequalities.
Discrimination can also arise in other ways. After storms, assessors determine how much damage each house has sustained. If a house is “substantially damaged,” meaning that repairs would cost 50 percent of its assessed value, it must be relocated or elevated, which can be cost-prohibitive for owners. Low-value homes are more likely to sustain substantial damage. And owners who can’t afford to move or raise their houses may feel pressured to accept a buyout, although these offers are technically voluntary.
Managed retreat is an important tool, and will only become more so as climate change intensifies storms and flooding. But the process needs reform.
Better communication could greatly improve the buyout process. Government officials need to make decisions more transparently about where and when to retreat, and should involve communities in these decisions to improve trust in the process. Conversations about retreat should address social inequality explicitly and discuss where people might relocate. Having these discussions before disasters strike would give people time to reflect without the emotional and financial stress of post-disaster recovery. It could also speed up the buyout process.
The study shows the global SCC is significantly higher than that used by the US American government to inform policy decisions. The latest numbers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for global costs range from US$12 to US$62 per metric tonne of CO2 emitted by 2020. However, the new data shows the SCC to be as high as US$180–800 per tonne of carbon emissions.
The country-level SCC for the USA alone is estimated to be US$50 per tonne, which is much higher than the global value used in most regulatory impact analyses. This means that the nearly five billion metric tons of CO2 the USA emits each year is costing the US economy about US$250 billion.
“Evaluating the economic cost associated with climate is valuable on a number of fronts, as these estimates are used to inform U.S. environmental regulation and rulemakings,” said lead author, University of California San Diego assistant professor Kate Ricke, who holds joint appointments with UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
CO2 is a global pollutant and previous analyses have always focused on the global SCC, but this paper offers a country-by-country breakdown of the economic damage climate change will cause.
“Our analysis demonstrates that the argument that the primary beneficiaries of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions would be other countries is a total myth,” Ricke said. “We consistently find, through hundreds of uncertainty scenarios, that the U.S. always has one of the highest country-level SCCs. It makes a lot of sense because the larger your economy is, the more you have to lose. Still, it’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies.”
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.