Climate change adaptation - Environmental Audit Contents

1  Introduction

1. The Fifth Assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set out the latest science on, and the expected impacts of, climate change. It warned that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia". "Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system."[1] Some of these changes and climate impacts are already being felt:

·  2014 was the warmest year on record, according to NASA,[2] the UK's Met Office[3] and the World Meteorological Organization.[4] Nine out of the ten warmest years in the instrumental record have occurred since 2000. The UK's mean temperature for 2014 was 9.9°C, which was 1.1°C above the long-term (1981-2010) average.[5]

·  The winter of 2013-14 was the wettest in England and Wales since 1766, with the rainfall in Southern England unprecedented.[6] The provisional rainfall total for 2014 of 1,297mm was the fourth highest for the UK since 1910.[7]

·  In 2014, the north east, east and west coasts of England saw the largest tidal surge for 60 years and an estimated 7,000 properties were flooded.[8]

2. In a report in November 2014, the Royal Society warned that "societies are not resilient to extreme weather" and the risks posed by climate change are increasing.[9] The IPCC highlighted that even if emissions of CO2 are stopped now, "most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries".[10] This means that the need to adapt to climate change is unavoidable.

UK adaptation policy

3. In addition to the statutory requirements placed upon the Government to mitigate climate change and remain within a series of carbon budgets, the Climate Change Act 2008 also put in place a policy framework to promote adaptation action in the UK.[11] It placed a duty on the Government to lay before Parliament an assessment of the risks for the UK of the current and predicted impact of climate change. Accordingly, the Government published a UK Climate Change Risk Assessment in 2012, which gave a detailed analysis of 100 potential effects of climate change.[12] That document informed the first National Adaptation Programme (NAP), published by the Government in 2013, setting out what government, businesses and society were doing to adapt better to the changing climate.[13] The NAP fulfils the Secretary of State's duty under the Act to lay programmes before Parliament setting out: climate change adaptation objectives; proposals and policies meeting those objectives; and the time-scales for introducing the proposals and policies. The Risk Assessment and the NAP have to be updated every 5 years, with the next Risk Assessment due in January 2017 and the next NAP in 2018. The Act also places a duty on the the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) of the Committee on Climate Change, to advise the Government on the preparation of each of those reports—the first statutory report being due in July 2015.

4. The Climate Change Act gives the Government an 'adaptation reporting power'—to require organisations operating essential services and infrastructure to produce reports identifying climate risks and how they plan to respond. These reports feed into the Risk Assessment and NAP. In July 2013, the Government updated its strategy for the second round of reporting. In preparing for the NAP, the reporting power was mandatory for certain sectors. Under the revised strategy, authorities report on a voluntary basis.

5. Since 2010, the ASC has published several progress reports, most recently Managing Climate Risks to well-being and the economy in July 2014.[14] This provided an update on climate change adaptation by examining the resilience of national infrastructure, business opportunities and risks, well-being and public health, and emergency planning. Previous ASC progress reports had focussed on land use planning, managing water resources and designing and renovating buildings (2011);[15] flooding and water scarcity (2012);[16] and key ecosystem services (2013).[17]

Our inquiry

6. The Government's involvement in the work of the Committee on Climate Change in respect of climate change adaptation differs from that on mitigation. Under the Climate Change Act, the Government is required to respond to the annual reports from the Committee on Climate Change examining progress against the carbon budgets (a mitigation measure), but not the ASC's progress reports on adaptation. We undertook our inquiry to examine both the progress being made on adaptation, ahead of the ASC's first statutory report to Parliament in July 2015, and the Government's approach to the ASC's work.

7. We took oral evidence across six sessions from a range of witnesses: Lord Krebs and Daniel Johns (the chair of the ASC and the Head of Adaptation for the Committee on Climate Change respectively), Defra Minister Dan Rogerson MP and Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin MP, officials from Kent County Council and Kingston upon Hull City Council, Climate UK, the Local Adaptation Advisory Panel, the Home Builders' Federation, Public Health England, the Town and Country Planning Association, Local Authority Building Control, Natural England, Water UK, the Environment Agency, the Energy Networks Association, Professor Jim Hall, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Infrastructure Operators Adaptation Forum, and Brian Smith (a member on the DfT Review of the Resilience of the Transport Network to Extreme Weather Events).

8. The focus of our inquiry was the ASC's most recent progress report and the actions that Government now need to take to be able to produce an effective revised NAP in response to the ASC's advice later this year. We examine below the state of progress on emergency response (Part 2), flooding (Part 3), the role of the development planning system (Part 4) and national infrastructure (Part 5). In Part 6 we consider how the lessons in these areas should be taken on board in revising the NAP.

1   IPCC, Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. (2013) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA Back

2   NASA, Press Release: NASA, NOAA Find 2014 Warmest Year in Modern Record (16 January 2015) Back

3   Met Office, Press Release: 2015 confirmed as UK's warmest year on record. (5 January 2015) Back

4   WMO, Press Release: 14 of 15 Hottest Years Have Been in 21st Century. (2 February 2015) Back

5   Met Office, Press Release: 2015 confirmed as UK's warmest year on record. (5 January 2015) Back

6   ibid Back

7   Ibid Back

8   Met Office, Press Release: Wettest winter for England and Wales since 1766 (27 February 2014).  Back

9   The Royal Society, Resilience to extreme weather - Executive Summary (November 2014), p2 Back

10   IPCC, Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (2013) Back

11   Climate Change Act 2008 Back

12   Defra, UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2012 (January 2012) Back

13   Defra, National Adaptation Programme: Making the country resilient to a changing climate (July 2013)  Back

14   Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC), Managing climate risks to well-being and the economy (July 2014) Back

15   ASC, Adapting to climate change in the UK - Measuring progress (14 July, 2011)  Back

16   ASC, Climate change - is the UK preparing for flooding and water scarcity? (1 July, 2012) Back

17   ASC, Managing the land in a changing climate, (10 July, 2013) Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 11 March 2015