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International Dimensions of Climate Change

The International Dimensions of Climate Change, a new report from Foresight, the Government’s futures think tank, warns that the social, economic and environmental impacts of climate change abroad could affect the UK more than climate change at home.

International Dimensions of Climate Change

Professor Sir John Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser and the project’s director explained the context and aim of the report:

“Our world is getting warmer, and the UK’s extensive international economic, political and cultural ties mean that the UK is at increasing risk from impacts of climate change overseas. The UK must not respond by becoming insular but instead broaden its international reach to tackle climate change. This report is designed to help Government consider how these impacts will be felt here in the UK so we can better prepare and adapt for the future.”

Risks and opportunities

The report aimed to identify the important areas of potential impact and areas of uncertainty, examining risks to the UK across five areas:

  • Foreign policy and security
  • Finance and business
  • Infrastructure
  • Resources and commodities
  • Health

The findings demonstrate how the UK is closely interconnected with the global economy and has an important role in addressing risks internationally.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman stressed the lessons for the international community:

“As John Beddington’s report recognises, the effects of climate change extend beyond environmental concerns into geo-political considerations.

“For the international community to deal with these challenges we must adapt together to ensure sustainable economic growth, maintain global stability, and support developing nations and countries particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

The report also identified opportunities in business, finance, global leadership and green technologies.

The evidence base

Involving over 100 experts and policymakers from across academia, government, think tanks and the private sector, the project drew on existing and new research, including nine newly commissioned peer-reviewed reports on subjects from The impacts of climate change on overseas infrastructure to Ethical, social and behavioural impacts of climate change.

The impacts in the UK

Examination of the risks to the UK showed that the UK will be vulnerable to a wide range of adverse impacts from climate change abroad and that more attention needs to be given to the impacts in the UK:

  • Foreign policy and security
    International instability could increase as a consequence of climate change, either directly through extreme weather events and water system stresses, or indirectly as social and political systems in vulnerable parts of the world come under increasing strain.
    The UK has a moral, political and legal obligation to support certain regions that are particularly at risk from the effects of climate change, such as small island states which include many of the UK Overseas Territories.
  • Resources and infrastructure
    Climate change could affect the overseas resources and infrastructure on which the UK depends. The impacts could arise from global temperature change, water stresses, sea level rise and extreme weather events.
    A wide range of potential threats are identified including disruption to essential infrastructure serving global markets and energy supplies, as well as the potential impact of extreme weather events on communications networks and data centres.
  • Financial sector and business
    The financial sector and business more generally may fail to properly evaluate and take into account changes in the balance of risks associated with climate change overseas. UK firms managed worldwide assets of £1.2 trillion in 2008, and the failure to accurately assess their level of exposure to climate change effects may result in these assets being insufficiently insured or protected.
    The UK’s financial exposure to overseas climate change impacts may increase if international business and financial policy frameworks do not appropriately account for climate change, and institutions are exposed to additional risks and uncertainties as a result.

Other UK areas that could be affected from climate change impacts abroad include health and the UK’s role on the global stage.

Informing the Climate Change Risk Assessment

The project’s evidence base will inform the UK’s first Climate Change Risk Assessment, due to be published in January 2012, to ensure that the Government’s policy on adaptation to climate change takes appropriate account of international impacts.

The project was co-sponsored by Defra, DECC and FCO, who will use the report to inform their wider international agenda on climate change.

Further reading

User comments

  1. John Holmes says:

    Well call me cynical but a missive full of maybe’s and wooly opinions hardly seems to be ‘based on cutting-edge evidence, and that its analysis is of the highest technical and scientific standard’

    International instability could increase
    Climate change could affect the overseas resources and infrastructure on which the UK depends.
    The financial sector and business more generally may fail to properly evaluate and take into account changes in the balance of risks

    are some examples. And we taxpayers pay for this circular reasoning based on thinning evidence for Global Warming.

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