New report suggests the vision for adaptation in the UK needs more ambition, alongside much more meaningful action to reduce our vulnerability to climate change.
Ouch. Dig below the surface and the new report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) doesn’t pull its punches. The National Adaptation Programme (NAP) is intended to give the UK an action plan to address the ever-growing risks of climate change. Yet the CCC found that it “gives little sense of strategic purpose… [and] does not amount to a coherent programme” (Adaptation Progress Report 2015, p29). This is worrying. The CCC’s Adaptation Progress Report highlights that as a nation we are becoming more, rather than less, vulnerable to a number of key climate risks, including flooding and heat, and it suggests the NAP is falling short.
The evaluation does point to positive progress in the NAP, but many of these achievements are limited to the delivery of pre-existing activities. Critically, there is limited evidence that these policies and actions are having a meaningful impact in reducing our vulnerability to climate risks. At UKCIP we are drawn to the conclusion that the bar has been set too low. Our interpretation is that the CCC’s findings point to a need for a far clearer vision of the nature and extent of the adaptation challenge before us, and for a more ambitious set of actions than we have seen in the NAP to date.
Will the CCC’s recommendations alone be sufficient? At UKCIP, while we agree with much of what the CCC is proposing, we would welcome a much broader, integrated agenda. The challenge of climate change is on a huge scale, and we need to respond in kind.
For example, the recommendation to improve public awareness of climate risks is very welcome, but should this not include empowering future decision-makers by embedding the principles adaptation, and mitigation, in our education system? Why are ecosystems that provide essential services not considered as a part of the nation’s ‘critical infrastructure’ in the same way that a motorway might be?
We worry too that the phrase ‘cost-effective’ appears many, many times without clear explanation. Cost-effective for whom and over what time period? While adaptation needs to be proportionate, at UKCIP we worry that this is a potential weakness; a ‘get-out clause’ for those refusing to acknowledge the scale of the challenge we face, even in our own lifetimes.
However, it’s important to remember too that the very existence of this report from the CCC, which is a product of the Climate Change Act 2008, is something to be celebrated. When we talk to colleagues across Europe, the Act remains the envy of many, providing a critical foundation upon which the UK can build both adaptation and mitigation policies. Governments from around the world will be looking to the UK to see what we have achieved. Although progress is being made and the UK can rightly consider itself among the leaders in adaptation, we must be more ambitious. And we must turn words into action.