UK’s NAP3 climate plan criticised for lack of ambition

The UK has published its third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3) report amidst widespread criticism that it is failing to take strong enough action in the face of aggressive climate change.

Leighton Reservoir in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire, UK, with very low water levels following a prolonged heatwave and no rainfall
Leighton Reservoir in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire, UK, with very low water levels following a prolonged heatwave and no rainfall - Adobe Stock

Under the 2008 Climate Change Act (CCA), the government is required to complete a Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) every five years, followed by a NAP setting out how the government will address the risks identified in the CCRA. Measures outlined in the latest NAP include the establishment of a new UK Health Security Agency Adverse Weather & Health Plan, a Local Authority Climate Service, and a Climate Resilience Board composed of senior government officials.

The government claims it is already investing billions in adaptation measures, including £5.2bn in flood and coastal schemes in England, over £750m for the Nature for Climate Fund and £80m for the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, aimed at creating jobs in nature recovery and conservation. Despite the government hailing NAP3 as a ‘step-change’ in the UK’s approach to climate adaptation, academics and scientists have been roundly critical of NAP3 for its lack of ambition as the effects of climate change become increasingly apparent.

“This is progress on previous plans, but we are disappointed that the government hasn’t used this opportunity to go further to build the UK’s resilience to climate change,” said Prof Dame Julia King DBE FREng FRS, chair of the Adaptation Committee of the CCC (Climate Change Committee). “In another summer of gruelling hot temperatures, water shortages and wildfires, it’s hard to make sense of that decision. We are at the stage where promising further action is not enough.

“Sadly, this is not a plan containing extensive new commitments. The argument for a stronger response has not been won across government. I urge ministers to build on this with much greater ambition. The scale of the climate impacts we are seeing make clear that resilience to climate change should be a much greater national priority.”

As heatwaves, flooding and typhoons impact large parts of the northern hemisphere, from China and Vietnam to Europe and North America, the need for adaptation to more extreme weather events has never been more apparent. But according to UCL’s Prof Hugh Montgomery, humanity’s ability to adapt is limited, and the only viable long-term solution is a rapid reduction in global greenhouse emissions.  

“The last three years has revealed the impacts of climate change worldwide, with floods, fires, storms and droughts becoming ever more frequent and severe,” said Montgomery, Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at UCL and co-chair of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change.

“These impacts will worsen steadily and unavoidably in coming years, impacting housing stock, critical infrastructure, food prices and availability, water supplies and more, and driving increases in migration. As such, it is absolutely right that adaptation plans are built into every aspect of UK policy. But it is doubtful, in reality, whether today’s society can be sustained through adaptation, unless we limit the harm which comes towards us. This means reducing global greenhouse gas emissions at massive pace and scale. In this, we must demand that politicians show real leadership.”