Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (U19)


  1.1  The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is a forum through which the country nature conservation agencies—the Countryside Council for Wales, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage—deliver their statutory responsibilities for Great Britain as a whole and internationally.


  2.1  Climate change is likely to be the most significant and far-reaching environmental threat to have faced the Earth in its recent history. Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are accelerating what was a natural process and scientific evidence suggests that we are currently committed to at least 50 years of rapid climate changes (and an average warming of 1.5ºC in that time). In the longer-term, the amount of climate change will be determined by decisions made now about the management of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol has raised the political profile of the need to reduce emissions, but the targets agreed so far are too modest to have any real effect on the warming trend. However, many see such mitigation measures as being the solution to the climate problem; the need to adapt to the more immediate and inevitable impacts of climate change are often overlooked.


  3.1  Climate mitigation is aimed at driving down greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to manage atmospheric concentrations of these gases at sustainable levels—both in terms of environmental and socio-economic well-being. But due to the lengthy activity times of greenhouse gases once in the atmosphere, the effects of mitigation measures, although essential in moderating climate change in the long term, are unlikely to be realised until well into the second half of this century.

  3.2  JNCC welcomes and supports the commitment demonstrated by the UK in tackling climate change and its mitigation, and the international lead it has taken over many related issues. The UK has a high profile role in international negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its policy framework is firmly focussed on the achievement of ambitious Kyoto targets.


  4.1  JNCC is concerned that the UK has not adequately or explicitly addressed the need for adaptation measures to accommodate the inevitable effects of climate change over the next 50 years or more. The comments which follow essentially relate to this issue.

  4.2  The potential effects of climate change are not widely understood. The concept of "global warming" has emerged as a popular euphemism for climate change. But temperature rise is one of a range of consequences of human intervention in the global climate system. Warming is being accompanied by changing precipitation patterns, increasing frequencies of extreme weather (storms, floods, drought) and rising sea levels (as ice sheets and glaciers melt, and as sea water expands in response to higher temperatures).

  4.3  Cause and effect relationships, predicted impacts and the urgency with which these need to be addressed, are not widely appreciated by policy/decision makers or amongst the public at large. For many, climate change is seen as a long term problem with no immediate relevance. However, the implications are already evident and will become more acute in decades to come.

  4.4  Humankind has no option but to develop measures to adapt to climate change—now. It is already having marked impacts on the environment, societies and economies. Direct effects are being witnessed on, for example, biodiversity, coastal processes, human health, buildings, water resources, rural landuse patterns and the insurance industry. Indirect impacts are influencing other sectors and areas of activity.

  4.5  Clearly, to address the more immediate impacts of climate change adequately, adaptation measures should be cross-sectoral, integrated and holistic. Explicit recognition of climate change in spatial policies and environmental protection measures is essential in this context. From a biodiversity perspective, accommodating changing species' distribution in response to climate change will be a key challenge for conservation. By incorporating climate change considerations into spatial planning policies, conservation strategies for protected areas and wider landscapes would be set alongside policies for land use and coastal change and water resource management, providing an effective framework for informed decision making.

  4.6  The future impacts of climate change are the subject of a growing field of research. Typically, such assessments use sophisticated computer models to simulate responses under a range of climate scenarios. Simulation models provide increasingly robust output data which should enable policy/decision makers to begin to address "adaptation" in the context of climate change. Whilst not yet being able to ascribe statistical certainty to any one prediction, models are able to provide a range of scenarios (least-worst to worst-worst) against which no-regrets options can be formulated.

  4.7  The development of adaptation measures in the UK largely falls within projects carried out under the umbrella of the UK Climate Impacts Programme ( JNCC commends its approach and the excellent work carried out by a very small team of dedicated professionals. However, to tackle the mounting challenges which characterise the adaptation agenda effectively, the Programme clearly requires a considerable increase in resources and a commitment to secure funding beyond the somewhat restricted arrangements currently in place.

1 October 2004

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