New report calls for early action to adapt to the impacts of climate change

The Government should make sure that new hospitals, schools, offices, roads and railways are designed to cope over their entire lifetimes with changes in the UK’s climate, as part of the forthcoming National Adaptation Programme, according to a new report published today (25 March 2013) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, and the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the University of Leeds and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The new policy brief, by Professor Sam Fankhauser and co-authors, on ‘An Independent National Adaptation Programme for England’, sets out 12 priorities for Government action on climate change adaptation, including measures to prevent the country from becoming more vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather, such as droughts and floods. The report has been produced to inform the preparation of a National Adaptation Plan, which is due to be published later this year by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Among the list of priorities identified in the report is ensuring that new long-lived infrastructure and buildings, such as offices, schools and hospitals, are suitable for the climate, including weather extremes, as it changes throughout their lifetimes. It also calls for routine maintenance of existing public infrastructure to include retrofitting to improve their climate resilience in order to minimise costs. The report recommends that the Government should reassess whether current water regulations and the Common Agricultural Policy are promoting long-term resilience against the impacts of climate change.

The report points out that the impacts of climate change are already occurring in the UK, with the average temperature now about 1°C higher than in the 1970s. It highlights the importance of the National Adaptation Programme “because climate change poses new challenges that are best addressed through a coordinated and strategic approach”. It adds that “climate risk can no longer be assumed to be constant” and that policy must be based on “future trends, risks and adaptation needs”.

The report stresses that “in some cases action is needed now to cope with the scale, speed and potential irreversibility of climate change impacts”, and that “action will need to be more anticipatory and less reactive than it has been in the past”.

However, it notes that “it is impossible to know what future climate we need to adapt to” and recommends “a flexible and iterative approach to making long-term decisions, which reduces vulnerability and risk today and in the future, whilst avoiding foreclosing options”.
The report states that the main purpose of the National Adaptation Programme should be to highlight areas of likely risk, establish the principles for good adaptation over the long term, and define an initial set of “specific, time-sensitive priorities for Government action”.

It suggests that the Government should focus initially on three main areas of adaptation, including measures to promote water efficiency which have “immediate, robust and cost-efficient benefits”. In addition, the Government should scrutinise strategic decisions which could ‘lock-in’ vulnerability to climate change, such as the location of new airports, rail links and wind farms. The report states: “Fast-tracking adaptation is desirable if a wrong decision today makes us more vulnerable in the future and if those effects are costly to reverse”.

Notes for Editors

  1. The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment was launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science in October 2008. It is funded by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment and the Global Green Growth Institute.
  2. The Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy is hosted by the University of Leeds and the London School of Economics and Political Science, and funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council and Munich Re.