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UK Climate Change Risk Assessment

UK Climate Change Risk AssessmentThe UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA), published on 25 January 2012, builds on the 2009 UK Climate Projections to develop our understanding of climate risk and provide detailed analysis of the practical implications of climate change across all sectors of the economy and society.

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This independent analysis was funded by the UK and devolved governments and has been delivered through a consortium of UK research organisations and consultants led by HR Wallingford.

The CCRA is intended to help the Government, businesses and other groups to assess the priority areas for action, by enabling comparison of different risks based on the scale of their financial, social and environmental impacts, their likelihood, and how soon the risk is likely to occur. The CCRA is the first assessment of its kind for the UK and will be reviewed every 5 years.

As well as the full report and summary, individual reports and summaries have been published for each of 11 key sectors and for the devolved governments. In addition, the nine Climate Change Partnerships across England have produced information packs to highlight key risks and opportunities from climate change and what they mean across a range of sectors within each area.

The CCRA Government Report sets out the main priorities for adaptation in the UK, and describes the policy context and action already in place to tackle some of the risks. The Government Report also highlights the constraints of the CCRA analysis and provides advice on how to take account of the uncertainty within the analysis.

The case for action

Speaking at the launch of the CCRA, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:

“This world class research provides the most comprehensive case yet on why we need to take action to adapt the UK and our economy to the impacts of climate change. It shows what life could be like if we stopped our preparations now, and the consequences such a decision would mean for our economic stability.

“The Climate Change Risk Assessment will be vital in helping us to understand what we need to do to stop these threats becoming a reality. In doing so there is also great potential for growth through UK firms developing innovative products and services tailored to meet the global climate challenges.”

Working together to maintain resilience

The Government has also announced that it will work with businesses, civil society and local government to develop a National Adaptation Programme (NAP) to help prepare the UK for the effects of climate change, including the risks set out in the CCRA. The completed NAP will be published in 2013, setting out timescales for the actions Government will take to meet the challenges of climate change.

People are encouraged to give their ideas on the action needed to tackle the implications of climate change where they live and work, through the National Adaptation Programme webpages.

Mrs Spelman explained the need to take account of the views of the public:

“Climate change is a global phenomenon, but its impacts will be felt at a local level and affect people differently depending on where they live. That is why I want people to give us their views to help develop a National Adaption Programme that puts us in the best shape possible to meet climate change head on.”

Highlighting the challenges

The CCRA highlights the top 100 challenges to the UK and our economy of a changing climate across 11 key sectors, from biodiversity and agriculture to health and the built environment. It provides a significant component of the underpinning evidence to support decisions and actions required to tackle the risks, and take advantage of the opportunities, arising from climate change, as well as providing compelling evidence of the need to increase our resilience.

In order to provide a reliable baseline for decisions by Government, local authorities and businesses the research does not take into account any future policies or plans. However, a Government report published alongside the CCRA does highlight the many current and future policies already in place and gives details of plans which will address some of the risks identified.

Among the key risks the CCRA identifies, in the unlikely event the UK took no further action, are:

  • Hotter summers present significant health risks
    The number of days in an average year when temperatures rise above 26°C is projected to rise from 18 days to between 27 and 121 days in London by the 2080s. This could mean greater demand for energy to cool buildings and more heat related illnesses. On average, hot weather accounts for around 1,100 premature deaths a year in the UK. By the 2050s, this figure is projected to increase by between 580 and 5,900, with the greatest risk in London and southern England. The Department for Health launched a Heatwave Plan in 2004 and updates it annually to provide advice and support for people vulnerable to hotter weather.
  • Increasing pressure on the UK’s water resources
    Without action to improve water resources, the supply-demand deficit may increase by the 2050s in parts of the north, south and east of England with the greatest challenge in the Thames basin. Defra published a Water White Paper last year which includes a package of measures to address water supply shortages, and to ensure the water industry is more resilient to future challenges.
  • Risks of flooding are projected to increase significantly across the UK
    New analysis for England and Wales shows that if no further plans were made to adapt to changing flood risks, by the 2080s annual damages to buildings and property due to the effects of climate change and population growth could reach between £2.1 billion – £12 billion, compared to current costs of £1.2 billion. Defra has introduced a new method of allocating funding for flood defences so that more communities will benefit from flood protection, and is working with the ABI to ensure that flood insurance remains widely available after the current agreement between Government and insurers expires in 2013. As part of these discussions, Defra is considering whether there are feasible, value for money ways of targeting funding support to those at highest flood risk and less able to pay.
  • Increases in drought and some pests and diseases could reduce timber yields and quality.
    Projected drought conditions could mean a drop in timber yields of between 10% and 25% by the 2080s in the south east, driving up timber costs. Pests and diseases, which may thrive in warmer conditions, may also pose an increasing threat. Red band needle blight, for example, causes loss of foliage and can lead to tree death. Defra has published a Tree and Plant Health Biosecurity Action Plan and committed £7million to further research into plant diseases.

The CCRA also highlights opportunities for the UK that climate change could present, including:

  • Opening of Arctic shipping routes
    The melting of Arctic sea ice, while having potentially significant negative environmental consequences, could lead to the opening up of new container shipping routes and improved trade links with Asia and the Pacific.
  • Milder winters may result in a major reduction in cold-related deaths and illnesses
    Currently, cold weather results in between 26,000 and 57,000 premature deaths each year in the UK. By the 2050s, a reduction in these figures of between 3,900 and 24,000 is projected to occur due to increasing average winter temperatures. This would particularly benefit vulnerable groups, including those with existing health problems.
  • Opportunities to improve sustainable food production
    Sugar beet yields are projected to increase by 20-70% and wheat yields by 40-140% by the 2050s due to longer growing seasons if water and nutrients remain available. A warmer climate presents opportunities to grow new crops such as soya, sunflowers, peaches, apricots and grapes, while new markets may open up overseas for British grown produce.

Understanding the implications of climate change

Professor Sir Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser at Defra, said:

“The CCRA is ground-breaking research which puts the UK at the forefront of understanding what the projected changes to our climate will really mean for us.

“For the first time it means we can compare a wide range of risks based on their financial, social and environmental implications. This will be invaluable for Government in prioritising the areas for future policies and investment, and it will help businesses assess what they need to do to ensure they are resilient to the changing climate.”

Lord John Krebs, Chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change, which scrutinised the evidence report, said:

“Without an effective plan to prepare for the risks from climate change the country may sleepwalk into disaster. This report represents an important first step in the process and demonstrates why the UK needs to take action to adapt now. The work of my Committee has found that by taking steps to manage these risks, the UK can reduce the costs of climate change in the future.

“The Government’s forthcoming adaptation programme should tackle barriers to adaptation so that local communities, businesses and households can take action to prepare.”

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