UK ‘must prepare now’ to mitigate climate change impact

By preparing now, the UK can reduce the adverse effects of climate change, according to a report published today by the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC).

In the water sector, while only eight per cent of resource zones in England are currently at risk of a supply shortfall in a severe drought, this could increase to around 45 per cent by 2035 without additional investment.

According to a statement, the UK’s vulnerability to climate change is potentially increasing as a result of patterns of building development in some areas and demographic trends.

The ASC found that in almost all of the nine local authorities studied — Hull, East Riding, Gloucester, Tewksebury, South Gloucestershire, Southampton, Fareham, Gosport and Stockton on Tees — development in the floodplain had increased, and in four of them the rate of development was higher than across the locality as a whole.

Similarly, three of the four coastal authorities studied saw an increase in development in areas of eroding coastline, and in two of them, the rate of development on unprotected coastline was higher than across the authority as a whole.

Five of the six urban authorities studied had recently increased the area of land paved over, exacerbating surface water flooding risk and the urban heat island effect.

This increase in vulnerability has reportedly been offset to some degree by increased investment in flood defences and the greater use of adaptation measures in new homes built.

Risks

Three of the largest risks to the UK identified by the government’s National Risk Register are weather related — namely coastal flooding, inland flooding and severe weather.

The impacts of climate change are likely to be borne disproportionately in some locations, such as in low-lying coastal areas and by some groups, including the elderly, who are more at risk of health impacts linked to climate change, including heat stress and respiratory illness.

Despite a growing awareness of adaptation on the part of the government, some businesses and local authorities, the ASC (itself a sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change) found that climate risks are still not being factored robustly enough into long-term decision-making on land-use planning and water infrastructure.

Actions

In its report, the ASC set out a series of actions, which, if implemented more widely, could reduce the costs of climate change and save people money.

They include water efficiency, flood protection, and summer cooling. Water efficiency involves a package of end-of-life upgrades to taps, showers and toilets to improve water efficiency, which could reduce water use by households by around a third.

Flood protection requires a package of measures to reduce damages from flooding, such as air-brick covers, door guards and drainage bungs. Summer cooling would require investing in low-cost measures to reduce overheating in buildings, including energy-efficient appliances to reduce waste heat, and increased window shading.

Policy

New policy approaches may be required to encourage people to take up these opportunities and could include wider use of water meters, alongside improved information from government agencies and regulators, to provide consumers with an incentive to change their behaviour and save water. Tighter regulations on new housing would improve their adaptability.

Commenting on the Climate Change Committee report, Tom Foulkes, director-general of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), said: ‘We agree that more must be done to prepare for the impacts of climate change, particularly in adapting our critical infrastructure, which has a direct impact on the economy and well-being of society.’